Although it is normally well intentioned, jokes that are discriminatory towards race, sexual orientation, gender or creed can now get contractors in a heap of trouble. This new law is aiming to cut down on discrimination. Jokes aside, they can hurt people and do real damage. Keep reading to find out exactly what this could mean for your business.
“Did you hear the one about . . . ?” Of course you have. We have all heard the racial and discriminatory jokes at the work place. If you are a federal contractor, you should be aware of Executive Order 11246.
In separate investigations, a staffing agency and a construction company were recently charged with violating Executive Order 11246, which prohibits certain acts on federal projects. In lawyer-speak, Executive Order 11246 expressly prohibits federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. The Executive Order also requires Government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment.
But what does that really mean? In the case of WMS Solutions, a staffing agency that provided laborers on demolition and asbestos removal projects in Washington, D.C., the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) alleged that WMS allowed other federal contractors to physically assault, make racial slurs and threaten to deport Hispanic workers. The OFCCP also alleged that WMS intentionally paid women less than men and assigned fewer work hours to African American, non-white and female laborers.
In the case of Fort Myer Construction Corp., the OFCCP charged the contractor with discrimination in its hiring practices of women, African American and Hispanic laborers. Compliance offers received more than 30 calls from employees who had reported harassment, threats, and intimidation in the work place. Significantly, Fort Myer’s vice president allegedly attempted to keep employees from talking to OFCCP compliance officers during the investigation. One of the female compliance officers personally was subjected to inappropriate sexual jokes during her investigation.
So What? While the WMS Solutions case is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the OFCCP, the Fort Myer’s complaint settled when the contractor agreed to pay $900,000 in back wages and interest to class members and make new job offers as positions become available. But here is what you really need to know:
- Know the law. OFCCP enforces Executive Order 11246, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which, as amended, prohibit those doing business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, from discriminating in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or status as a protected veteran. Surf the Department of Labor OFCCP’s website to get a good overview, or contact your attorney if you have received noticed of an investigation.
- Know your management. If you are the owner of your company, set the standard for integrity and character. Get to know, really know, your key executives, managers and project supervisors, and how they are treating employees and laborers. Conduct training sessions at all levels. It does not have to be a stuffy, legal presentation-it can be entertaining, exciting and thought-provoking. Just ask me!
- Know your employees. As an employer, the best way to avoid a disconnect with your employees is to connect with them. You will get greater rewards on their efforts, and you will create an environment of trust in the event a racial and discriminatory allegation arises. They will feel comfortable coming to you (.as opposed to a federal investigator.) before a real issue arises.
While treating employees equally, fairly and in a non-discriminatory matter is the right thing to do, it is also the law.