EEOC Targets Construction Companies
On May 31, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a report that found race, sex, and national origin discrimination and harassment remains widespread in the construction industry. The 110-page report, titled “Building for the Future: Advancing Equal Employment Opportunity in the Construction Industry,” concluded by warning that the commission would target construction employers for increased enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
The EEOC enforces laws that prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation mainly based on color, race, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, and sexual orientation), age (40 or over), and disability. (The relevant laws are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
The new EEOC report notes that the construction industry is growing. Currently at about 12 million workers, the industry will get bigger in coming years as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.
According to the report, many construction companies and industry groups have made good-faith efforts to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Still, some of the most egregious discrimination and harassment cases investigated by the EEOC have arisen in the construction industry. For example, the commission received at least 64 charges involving nooses in the construction industry from 2015 to 2022. And in a 2021 survey of over 2,600 tradeswomen, nearly 1 in 4 reported experiencing near constant sexual harassment.
Outlining next steps for the EEOC, the report states that in addition to continuing to investigate and litigate cases, the agency will work on industry-specific rules and do more to make sure workers know how to file claims with the commission. In 2022 alone, the EEOC sued construction companies for behavior it wants the industry to correct in many states, including California, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
Given the EEOC’s focus on the industry, construction employers need to be proactive to avoid claims. Companies can start by:
- Reviewing employee handbooks to make sure equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination and harassment policies are up to date;
- Training managers and supervisors on what conduct is prohibited and how to respond if they become aware of discrimination or harassment; and
- Using safety toolbox sessions with hourly workers to remind them of company policies and to ensure they know how to report concerns internally.
Maynard Nexsen will continue to monitor the EEOC’s investigations of construction companies. If you have additional questions regarding this topic, please contact any member of the firm’s Labor and Employment or Construction groups.
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