Each year the U.S. government awards hundreds of thousands of contracts to employers guaranteeing nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in all their employment practices. Among other things, these are for supplies, services, use of property, and construction work, totaling over $200 billion. Construction contractors, banks, utilities, insurance and real estate companies, manufacturers, producers, builders, and universities are among those who do federal contract and subcontract work.

Under two statues and one executive order, minorities, women, members of religious and ethnic groups, handicapped persons, and Vietnam and disabled veterans of all wars are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and affirmative action requirements. These state that special efforts must be made by employers in outreach, recruitment, training, and other areas to help members of protected groups compete for jobs and promotions on an equal footing with other applicants and employees. Affirmative action is not preferential treatment. Nor does it mean that unqualified persons should be promoted over other people. What affirmative action means is that positive steps must be taken to provide equal employment opportunity.

Enforcement of these contracts is carried out by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration. OFCCP's compliance officers regularly review the employment practices of federal contractors, sub-contractors, and federally assisted construction contractors to determine whether or not they are fulfilling their EEOC and affirmative action obligations.

Complaints of Discrimination

Individuals who are protected by the contract compliance programs may file complaints if they believe that they have been discriminated against by federal contractors, subcontractors, or federally assisted construction contractors or subcontractors. Complaints may also be filed by organizations or other individuals on behalf of the person or persons affected.

If a complaint filed under the Executive Order involves discrimination against only one person, OFCCP will refer it to the EEOC, an independent agency. Cases that involve groups of people or indicate patterns of discrimination are generally investigated by the OFCCP.

Complaints must be filed with 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended because of a good reason, which requires approval by the OFCCP director.

Persons filing complaints should include a description of the discrimination involved and any other related information which would assist in an investigation. Complaints may be filed directly with the OFCCP in Washington, DC, or with any of the program's regional offices throughout the country.

Enforcing Contract Compliance

When a complaint is filed, or a compliance review turns up problems, the OFCCP attempts to enter into a conciliation agreement with the contractor. A conciliation agreement may include back pay, seniority credit, promotions, or other forms of relief for the victims of discrimination. It may also involve new training programs, special recruitment efforts, or other affirmative action measures.

The conciliation agreement allows the contractor to continue doing government business, and guarantees that employees' rights are protected. When conciliation efforts are unsuccessful, the OFCCP moves to enforcement. Federal rules and regulations set forth administrative and judicial procedures to be followed when enforcement actions are necessary.

Contractors or subcontractors cited for violating their EEO and affirmative action requirements may have a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. If conciliation is not reached before or after the hearing, sanctions may be imposed. For example, contractors or subcontractors could lose their government contracts or subcontracts; they could have payments withheld by the government; or they could be declared ineligible for any federal contract work.

In some cases the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Department of Labor, may file suit in federal court against a contractor for violation of the contract requirements.

For more information about contract compliance, filing complaints, or special assistance, contact any of the OFCCP's ten regional offices, or get in touch with a program area office, listed in the telephone directory under U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.