Compliance is part of construction work. Construction companies that work as federal contractors must abide by certain labor requirements including affirmative action programs, E-Verify for worker eligibility, ACA and more. And while remaining compliant is always important, now more than ever construction companies must pay closer attention to EEOC guidelines—whether they are federal contractors or not.
The EEOC or US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. In May 2022, the EEOC held a hearing to examine the “severe and pervasive discrimination in the construction sector,” especially against women and people of color.
“The construction sector has always been an important component of the American economy, as a major employer of America’s workers, a pathway to prosperity and security, and a key indicator of the nation’s health,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “Unfortunately, many women and people of color have either been shut out of construction jobs or face discrimination that limits their ability to thrive in these careers.”
The hearing allowed a wide range of witnesses to discuss the challenges women and people of color face in construction, including threats, physical harassment and even physical or sexual assaults. Organizations dedicated to fair treatment also spoke and it was recognized that the industry must actively push for change, like protecting workers by listening to concerns and holding abusive employers responsible.
Recent EEOC Enforcements
The EEOC has stepped up its focus on discrimination in the construction industry and companies that don’t protect their workers could face a lawsuit and steep fines. Below are just a couple of recent examples.
- Focus Plumbing pays $500,000 to settle sexual harassment suit. The EEOC filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Las Vegas, Nev. company claiming it subjected a class of monolingual Spanish-speaking female employees to a hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment that included unwanted touching, groping, sexual advances, sexually offensive comments and requests. The EEOC’s lawsuit further alleged that employees were threatened if they rejected the sexual advances whereas others were offered better work assignments and hours if they acquiesced to sexual acts.
Aside from paying the $500,000, Focus Plumbing must also provide specialized training on sexual harassment to human resources officers and managers to ensure they are aware of their obligations to prevent sexual harassment and how to address complaints.
- EEOC sues Alto Construction and J.A. Croson for race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. On September 30, 2022, the EEOC filed two separate race discrimination lawsuits against Alto Construction Co. Inc., a site development and asphalt paving construction company based in the Tampa area, and another against J.A. Croson, LLC, a plumbing and HVAC contracting company based in the Orlando area.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit against Alto, its management regularly used a derogatory racial epithet in front of Black employees. The complaint also alleges that a white division manager humiliated the Black employee by ramming a shovel from the back between his legs. The Black employee objected to the assault and, in response, was fired later that day.
In the separate action against J.A. Croson, the EEOC alleges company management routinely used derogatory slurs in reference to non-white employees. The EEOC further alleged that J.A. Croson referred to non-white employees as “non-essential” and “useless,” and assigned them the least desirable work tasks. When non-white employees complained of the racial discrimination, J.A. Croson fired them.
Being proactive about EEOC compliance does more than decrease your risk of a discrimination lawsuit, it builds a better, stronger workforce because more workers feel safer and happier in an inclusive work environment.
Learn more about the EEOC and your responsibility by reading our blog, The EEOC’s Role and Your Responsibility.