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With the frequency of racial and discriminatory jokes and comments in the workplace, federal contractors must be aware of Executive Order 11246 and its implication on workforce management.

In legal terms, Executive Order 11246 expressly prohibits federal contractors and federally assisted construction contractors and subcontractors that conduct more than $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.

Know the Law
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces numerous applicable laws, including Executive Order 11246, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Collectively, these laws prohibit federal contractors 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. Visit the OFCCP’s website at dol.gov/ofccp for an overview of the applicable laws.

Know the Target Standards
The OFCCP has established a distinct approach to affirmative action for the construction industry, primarily due to the fluid and temporary nature of the construction workforce. For example, the OFCCP has goals and specific affirmative action standards, such as national goals for the treatment of women. The female goal of 6.9 percent was extended indefinitely in 1980 and remains in effect today. Construction contractors are not required to develop written affirmative action programs; however, the regulations outline the good faith steps construction contractors must take to increase the utilization of minorities and women in the skilled trades.

Know the Basic EEO Requirements
The basic Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) requirements of Executive Order 11246 are simple. They include: don’t discriminate, post EEO posters, include the EEO tagline in employment advertising, keep records, give the OFCCP access to books and records during a complaint investigation or compliance evaluation, and file an annual EEO-1 report.

Know Written Policies
Compliant federal contractors review their employment policies, including compensation systems, to address discrimination and harassment in the workplace. After reviewing the OFCCP’s guidelines, take the time to revise and edit any written policies that apply to the workforce.

Know Company Management
The owner of the company should set the standard for integrity and character. Get to know key executives, managers and project supervisors, as well as how they are treating employees and laborers. Conduct training sessions at all levels.  

Know Employees
As an employer, the best way to avoid a disconnect with employees is to connect with them. Doing so will create an environment of trust in the event a discriminatory allegation arises. Employees will feel comfortable coming to management (as opposed to a federal investigator) before a real issue occurs.

While treating employees equally, fairly and in a non-discriminatory matter is the right thing to do, it is also the law.

Matthew DeVries is a partner and chair of the construction law practice at Burr & Forman LLP, Nashville, Tenn., and owner of bestpracticesconstructionlaw.com. For more information, email mdevries@burr.com 

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