In the United States, when an employee believes he has been illegally discriminated against on the basis of his race, religion, sex, ethnicity, age or ability, he can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.
The EEOC is a U.S. government agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination, and it is critical to providing a fair work environment.
“By going through a fact-finding process, the EEOC can help people and companies reach a fair conclusion without the expense and complexity of a trial,” says Luke Visconti, the founder of DiversityInc, an online magazine that focuses on how diversity affects business success.
An evolving mission
As American society has evolved, so has EEOC’s mission. Some federal courts, for instance, now interpret laws against sex-based discrimination to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and identity.
Now, Visconti says, anti-discrimination laws are “there to protect every citizen, their human rights and their civil rights in the workplace.”
“When you think about it, aside from the person who is the direct victim of discrimination, there is collateral damage for everyone else in the office,” Visconti said. Teasing someone in the office who is gay, for example, may harm other employees who have relatives or friends who are gay.
A boon for business
Protecting the rights of LGBTI people and their loved ones is also good for business. According to Visconti, inclusive and equal workplaces boost “the productivity of the individual and the GDP of the entire country.”
Employees who don’t have to spend time and energy hiding their sexual identity for fear of discrimination experience less stress and fewer health problems. So anti-discrimination policies and laws increase productivity and morale.
Any company that provides products or services to consumers benefits from hiring and promoting employees who reflect the diversity of the market. DiversityInc research finds that same-sex couples are an important consumer market. Many have significant economic clout, and they are unlikely to spend money supporting businesses that discriminate against LGBTI people.
“If you want to be in business,” says Visconti, “you have to provide equal opportunity across the board.”