Customer vs. EEOC: Who is Really the King? | DCR Workforce Blog

Customer vs. EEOC: Who is Really the King?

EEOCAre you thinking you do not want to read one letter more of this blather? How can anyone say the customer is not king? After all, what is a business to do without customers? They are the reason we exist, or as the French put it far more quaintly – our raison d’être – and without them we cannot survive! While I would not argue with the truth of all this, I would still say that there are times when the customer is not king.

What happens if you are a staffing firm looking to hire people for your valued customers? You will need to know where to draw the line when accommodating customer requests , if you are to avoid being targeted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (a.k.a. the EEOC) and its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for 2013-16!

At the top of a list priorities set for the SEP is the need to eliminate barriers in recruitment and hiring. This October, a San Diego staffing firm paid a massive $920,000 in response to allegations that it engaged in the practice of referring candidates based on the job applicants’ race, color, sex, national origin, age or disability. It also agreed to implement preventive measures, revamp its recruitment procedures and train its recruiters on diversity.

We all know only too well that the EEOC will not countenance any practice which can be deemed to be discriminatory against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities. It will also target practices like disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and other discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under the equal employment laws, or reluctant or unable to exercise them.

The EEOC has always provided very clear guidance in the matter, making staffing firms liable for any discrimination in hiring and treatment, retaliation and harassment their employees experience at client sites. While the client employees may be the ones demonstrating discriminatory behavior, the staffing firm cannot be absolved of its responsibilities as the employer of record. With the SEP, the EEOC’s scrutiny has brought the staffing firms’ referral and placement policies into the spotlight.

To stay safe, staffing firms must follow a referral and hiring policy which excludes or discriminates against no one as long as they are qualified to meet the requirements of the job. We suggest that firms take some preventative steps to avoid situations in which a conflict with a client may occur.

  • Include an anti-discriminatory statement in all contractual agreements with customers.
  • Provide diversity training to all recruiters and other employees, and make sure that any restrictive processes put in place (like background checks) meet the EEOC’s guidance.
  • Establish a process within the staffing agency to handle situations where a client asks a recruiter to apply selection criteria that could be deemed as discriminatory.  Be clear as to who within the staffing agency should be informed of the request, who will handle the request, and how.
  • Also jointly define the process with each customer for handling worker claims of discrimination, abusive or inappropriate treatment.
  • During the worker orientation, review the anti-discrimination policy of the agency and the customer, and explain the process for reporting issues or incidents.
  • Regularly check in with workers to solicit feedback regarding the work environment.

With these measures in place, if customers pronounce their unwillingness to entertain a certain type of candidate for any reason, a savvy staffing firm will be able to disagree without jeopardizing their ongoing working relationship with their customer.  Be smart and let your customer know that such specifications can never form a part of the candidate requirements for both your sakes! Even if you happen to lose that customer, consider that you have gained rather than lost, in the ultimate analysis.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.