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Understanding EEO-1 changes through the history of the EEOC

Equal rights in America never come in one fell swoop. Civil rights marches, protests, demonstrations, legal cases, and legislation all play a hand in bringing America, step by step, closer to equality, especially in the workplace.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is one of the many ways the government has stepped in to encourage workplace equality. The Commission has evolved since its inception more than 50 years ago, and it isn’t done yet. This year, the commission’s EEO-1 form will see some major changes. To fully understand the importance of them, let’s take a look at the history of the EEOC itself.

The early days of workplace equality

The forerunner to the EEOC was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy via an executive order. At the time, it was called the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and was meant to prevent government contractors from discriminatory hiring practices based on race.

This committee was created in the middle of the civil rights movement—after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, but before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that established the EEOC that exists today—a five-member bipartisan committee whose mission is to eliminate workplace discrimination. One year after the act became law, the EEOC officially opened its doors.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. At first, the EEOC ignored gender-based discrimination complaints, claiming that such protections were included in the act as a joke, accident, or attempt to deter the bill from passing.

Enforcing equality, one step at a time

In the years that followed, the attitude toward gender-based discrimination changed. As more women entered the workplace and more protests broke out, the EEOC quickly began to take these cases, alongside race-based cases, seriously. For example, the EEOC decided that creating separate male and female “Help Wanted” sections in newspapers was discriminatory. At another point, it forbade employers from firing female employees simply because they were pregnant.

Within its first few years of operation, the EEOC focused a lot of its attention on fully desegregating businesses, particularly in the South. In many cases, this meant demanding businesses fully remodeled their buildings to remove extra bathrooms previously labeled “colored”. The EEOC claimed that the extra bathrooms’ mere presence, even without signs, encouraged the continued separation of races.

Since its founding, the EEOC also widened the definition of “sex discrimination” to protect individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to biological sex. The EEOC also looks out for discrimination based on disability, religion, and age, although gender and race continue to be at the forefront.

Continuing the journey toward equal pay for equal work

Equality in the workplace has come a long way since the time the EEOC was founded, but inequalities such as a wage gap still exist within some workplaces, and the EEOC continues to hear thousands of cases each year.

The EEOC uses a number of forms, including EEO-1, to enforce the Civil Rights Act, and ensure the Commission has data for each case it hears. This year, to combat the race and gender wage gap that still persists, the EEOC has updated its EEO-1 form.

While the old form could be used to spot discriminatory hiring practices, the updated one will better spot wage discrimination specifically based on gender and race. This year’s form will require reporting based on hours and pay bands, as well as the usual self-reporting of race and gender.

Because we can still make further strides toward equality, penalties for failing to complete the EEO-1 form or filing false information are serious, and can even include jail time. Yet many businesses aren’t fully prepared for the new requirements. Make sure you’re equipped with the proper tools and data to accurately complete your EEO-1 forms and help advance the EEOC’s important mission.