The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an agency of the federal government, created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The purpose of the EEOC is to interpret and enforce federal laws prohibiting discrimination.
To achieve these goals, the EEOC holds hearings, administers equal employment opportunity laws for employees of the federal government, issues regulations interpreting the law, and litigates discrimination cases, among other things. The EEOC also accepts charges of discrimination from employees, investigates those charges, and attempts to mediate settlements between employees and employers.
The EEOC is responsible for interpreting and enforcing most – but not all – federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, including:
As the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing these civil rights laws, the EEOC has a number of responsibilities.
When Congress passes a law prohibiting discrimination, the EEOC often issues regulations that interpret the law. The EEOC might also issue regulations when a law is amended or when important Supreme Court cases clarify the law. These regulations define important terms used in the statute, establish procedures for enforcing employee rights, and generally fill in the gaps left by Congress so both employees and employers are clear on their rights and obligations under the law.
Sometimes, the EEOC also issues enforcement guidance on specific issues, such as using criminal records in hiring or applying the ADA to employees with mental disabilities. These documents explain how the law works in the real world, typically using lots of examples to flesh out the details. When the EEOC is considering regulatory action or looking at developing civil rights issues, it often holds hearings and solicits public comments to inform its decision-making process.
The EEOC is also responsible for EEO compliance in the federal government. If a federal government employee wants to complain about discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, the employee must first file a complaint with the EEO office in the employee’s own agency, which investigates and processes the complaint. The complaint may be heard – and a decision issued -- by an administrative law judge. If the employee isn't satisfied with the outcome, the employee can appeal to the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.
The primary way most employees encounter the EEOC is through its charge-handling function. The EEOC takes charges (complaints) of discrimination from employees and applicants. Filing a charge is a legal prerequisite to filing a lawsuit; employees who fail to complain to the EEOC (or a similar state agency) and give it an opportunity to process the charge won't be allowed to sue.
Once the EEOC receives a charge, it evaluates the employee’s claims and decides how to proceed. Among the options:
If the employee wants to go ahead with a lawsuit while the EEOC is still processing the charge, the employee may request a right to sue letter. (Even if the employee doesn’t request one, the EEOC will issue a right to sue letter to the employee once it finishes processing the charge.) This aptly named document states that the employee has met the requirement of filing a charge and may proceed to court.