The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a US federal agency empowered by Congress, particularly since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, to help enforce laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. The Commission was first established in the early 1960s, but is was not until 1964 that it was given the power it needed to pursue those companies with discriminatory practices through lawsuits. The Civil Rights Act, in Title VII of its law specifically, gives the Commission the rights to oversee the employment practices of both private and government employers, and to enforce the administration of laws set forth by the US government to combat discrimination.
There are actually several laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. These are the 1963 Equal Pay Act and, as mentioned above, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its subsequent amendments. They also include the 1967 Age Discrimination Act, the 1990 American Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. These acts, when taken together, demand equal pay for equal work, and prevent discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religious preference, and states of health like pregnancy, and/or disability. The EEOC further is able to investigate or help sue companies or employers that practice sexual harassment of either gender.
In addition to being empowered through litigation to address companies that commit acts of discrimination, the Commission takes complaints from employees who feel their rights are being violated. They also do broad-based investigations of company practices to see if there are hidden discriminatory hiring, promotion, or payment practices, and work to educate companies and the public on what constitutes discrimination. It also publishes reports on hiring practices and pamphlets for employers and workers.
When workers feel they are being subject to discrimination, or when their company is practicing wide scale discrimination prohibited by law, they can file claims with the EEOC. It is then up to the Commission to investigate such claims, to advise employees of their rights, and to potentially threaten or carry through with lawsuits against an employer to make it compliant with anti-discrimination policies. When possible, the Commission may simply work with a company to educate it so that it becomes compliant with such policies, but when the company resists such education, it essentially puts itself at war with the agency.
Since the establishment of the Commission, there have been frequent criticisms leveled against it. These tend to fall along the lines of resentment over government involvement in business in the private sector. Some employers feel their hands are tied by the laws the agency enforces and feel the government has no right to decide how they can conduct business.
These arguments are roughly the same as those that have always been made in critique of the Commission. They are sometimes made more on a philosophical level rather than because an employer specifically wants to discriminate against a group of “protected” individuals. In contrast, many employers and employees alike salute the efforts of the EEOC in promoting fair and equitable workplace environments, in helping to educate on what constitutes “fair,” and for helping to provide an even playing field for all people who are currently employer or who are seeking employment.