Terms and Definitions

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Adverse Impact. Under EEO law, disparate impact is defined as a less favorable effect on one group than for another. Disparate impact results when rules applied to all employees have a different or more inhibiting effect on members of a protected class. For example, height requirements for a particular job might have a disparate impact on women or other groups who are generally shorter in stature.

Affirmative Employment. Positive steps taken by an employer which contribute toward greater employment opportunities for minorities, females and persons with disabilities. In federal employment, this may mean that that direct efforts be made to include qualified women, minorities, employees over 40, and persons with disabilities at grade levels and in job categories where they are under represented.

Affirmative Employment Plans. Written plans for programs required by Executive Order 11478 and other laws and regulations. AEP's may contain studies which show how the work force at the activity has been used, and may include goals and timetables for increasing the representation of protected class members in those areas where they have been under represented.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR is a term used to describe a variety of approaches to resolving conflict as an alternative to traditional adjudicatory or adversarial methods. There are several methods of ADR to include mediation, facilitation, fact finding, early neutral evaluation, ombuds, settlement conferences, minitrials, peer review or using a combination of these methods. Under the EEOC November 1999 regulations, federal agency EEO directorates are now mandated to include ADR programs. The DSS EEO office has developed its ADR program for the Agency, and has chosen to use mediation. For a complete description of the DSS EEO ADR program, click here.

Basis. A basis is the "reason" alleged for discrimination. An EEO complainant must assert a basis, or reason, when bringing forward a complaint. Bases (protected groups) under EEO are: race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex (gender), sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, and reprisal.

Caucus. This word is often used in the context of ADR and or mediation. It generally means a private meeting between the mediator and one of the attending parties.

Class Complaint. A class is a group of employees, former employees or applicants for employment who, it is alleged, have been or are being adversely affected by an Agency personnel management policy or practice that discriminates against the group on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. A class complaint is a written complaint of discrimination filed on behalf of a class by the agent of the class alleging that:

Complaint. A complaint is an allegation of illegal discrimination that is handled through an administrative procedure. A complaint may result when an employee believes he or she has been unfairly treated because of race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender sexual orientation or physical/mental disability. The allegation itself is not proof that illegal discrimination has taken place. The investigation that follows the acceptance of issues from a formal complaint will provide the basis for a determination as to whether or not illegal discrimination has, in fact, occurred. (See, EEO Complaint Process page.)

Complainant. A person who brings forward an EEO matter to the attention of an EEO counselor; usually refers to the person who has filed a formal EEO complaint.

Counseling (EEO). For purposes of EEO, counseling is the relationship dynamic between a complainant and an EEO Counselor. A complainant remains in EEO counseling until the case is closed or a formal complaint is filed.

Counselor (EEO). An Agency employee who serves as the conduit for a complainant to bring forward an EEO matter. Agency employees may select a counselor of their choice. (See, Counselor List page.) A counselor is a neutral party who advocates for neither the Agency nor the complainant. The role of the counselor is to inform individuals about the EEO process and to gather certain vital information concerning the claims raised at counseling. The goal of the counselor is to effect resolution of the EEO matter quickly and informally.

Disability. See, Individual with a Disability.

Discrimination. The word discrimination has come to refer to "illegal discriminatory acts." But the word "discrimination" simply means noticing the differences between things or people that are otherwise alike, and making decisions based on those differences. We discriminate when we buy one product over another, when we choose our friends, and when we make personnel decisions based on merit related factors. All these forms of discrimination are legal and necessary. There are, however, some types of discrimination in employment that are illegal. Illegal discrimination is unfavorable treatment of a person by category, class, or group rather than objective treatment on the basis of merit. The following bases are protected from discrimination: race, color, religion, national origin, sex (gender), age, disability, sexual orientation and reprisal. Discrimination can be intentional or unintentional and falls into two categories, disparate treatment and disparate impact (definitions below.) See also, Discrimination FAQ page.

Disparate Treatment. Disparate treatment occurs when there is an inconsistent application of rules and policies to one group of people over another. This type of discrimination, then, may result when rules and policies are applied differently to members of protected classes. For example, disciplining employees of a protected group for tardiness, while ignoring tardiness among other employees, is an example of disparate treatment.

Diversity. Diversity refers to the cumulative characteristics that make a person or group of persons unique. The concept of diversity implies a fullness of ideas, perceptions, traditions and ways of living that cover the human spectrum. Simply stated, diversity is the uniqueness of all individuals; it includes everyone.

Diversity Management. The emphasis of a structured management geared toward diversity is understanding, valuing and managing differences and similarities to obtain enhanced communication and increased productivity in any environment where human interaction is a relevant factor. The definition is intentionally broad and capable of including a wide range of strategies, activities and efforts.

Ethnic Group. A group of people who share a common religion, color, race or national origin. Irish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, German - Americans, Italian-Americans, Hindus and Moslems are examples of ethnic groups. Discrimination based on ethnic customs or practices may be illegal under the EEO regulations. See also, Minority.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). This refers to laws that ensure equal opportunity employment and employment benefits for all people. It protects against illegal discrimination. See also, EEO Regulation, Laws and Executive Order page.

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws. There are seven laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, physical disability and mental disability in any term, condition, or privilege of employment. The seven EEO laws are:

Executive Order. Written documents signed by the President that have the effect of law, without the enforcement of penalties associated with regulations passed by Congress.

Formal Complaint Phase. This phase of the EEO process commences after the informal counseling phase has been completed and if counseling did not result in resolution of the issues. A formal complaint is initiated when the Complainant submits a signed statement of allegations.

See, EEO Complaint Process page.

Harassment. Harassment is illegal when it involves discriminatory treatment based on race, color sex (with or without sexual conduct), religion, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation. Generally, the conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment. See also, Sexual Harassment.

Hostile Work Environment. An atmosphere in the work place that generally results from a series of repeated, unwelcome conduct or behavior, to include reprisal. In most cases, the nature of that conduct must be severe and pervasive in order to constitute a hostile work environment as an issue under the EEO complaint process.

Impairment. As defined under the Rehabilitation Act, an impairment is a physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting a body system or a mental or psychological disorder.

Individual with a Disability. As used in reference to the EEO arena, and as defined in the Rehabilitation Act, means a person who has:

(See also, Impairment.)

Informal Counseling Phase. Informal counseling commences on the date the Complainant contacts an EEO representative. This phase customarily lasts for 30 days, but may be extended under certain provisions. It is during this phase, that the EEO Counselor informally attempts to resolve the issues brought forward. See also, EEO Complaint Process page.

Labor Force / Labor Market. Labor Force describes all civilians who are at least 16 years old and are employed or looking for work. The labor market is a group within the labor force whose members could fill a particular job. To be considered part of the labor market for a GS-5 clerical position, for instance, an individual must meet all minimum job-related requirements for that grade and classification. For most jobs, employers can find enough applicants in the local labor market. For jobs that have high minimum qualifications, employers may need to tap the national labor market to find enough applicants.

Mediation. Mediation is a joint session in which a DoD certified mediator conducts a meeting with the EEO complainant and a management official, with the goal of reaching a settlement agreement. The mediator is a non-DSS, neutral, third party, who has limited knowledge of the issues and who is required to keep the discussion confidential, to the extent possible. Benefits of mediation include improved communications between the parties, enhanced working relationships and savings of time and money.

Merit Principles. The rules established by the Office of Personnel Management that the federal government follows in hiring, promoting, and all terms and conditions of employment. One of those rules states that selections and advancements shall be made on the basis of an applicant's or employee's ability, knowledge, and skills in fair and open competition.

Minority. The smaller part of a group. A group within a country or state that differs in race, religion or national origin from the dominant group. According to EEOC guidelines, minority is used to mean particular groups who share a race, color or national origin. These groups are:

Of course, many more minority groups can be identified in the American population. However, they are not classified separately as minorities under EEO law. It should be noted that women and individuals with disabilities are not classified as a minorities. However, they have experienced the same kind of systematic exclusion from the economy as the various minorities. Thus, they are considered as having "minority or protected status" as far as the law is concerned.

Notice of Right to File a Discrimination Complaint. This is the letter provided to a complainant upon termination of the informal counseling phase. The Notice provides the complainant of procedural requirements to continue in the EEO complaint process; that is, how, when and where to file a formal complaint of discrimination.

Prima Facie. This Latin term translates as "on first view," or "at first appearance." In EEO cases, complainants present evidence and arguments to support a claim of discrimination. If those arguments cannot be rebutted with additional evidence, the claim will be supported by the court within further argument. Thus, a prima facie case is established. In the EEO area, statistics of under utilization have been sufficient to make a prima facie case for discrimination.

Merits. An EEO case may ultimately be decided on its merits; that is to say, the evidence will be reviewed to make a determination (or finding) that discrimination did, or did not, occur.

Numerical Goal. Is a "target number." In the context of EEO, it refers to the number of qualified women and minorities hired and advanced within a given period of time through an Affirmative Action Program. A numerical goal is not a quota, as it is not required to be reached within a time frame. It does not permit the hiring or advancement of unqualified employees. Numerical goals provide a standard which allow an activity to measure the effectiveness of its Affirmative Action Program. Achievement of those goals would mean that the percentage of women and minorities, working at appropriate grade levels and classifications, would be closer to their comparable percentage in the labor market.

Protected Class. The groups protected from employment discrimination by law. These groups include men and women (on the basis of sex); any group which shares a common race, religion, color, or national origin; people over 40; and people with a physical or mental disability. Every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class, and is entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, the EEO laws were passed to correct a history of unfavorable treatment of women and minority group members.

Quid Pro Quo. This is one form of sexual harassment. It is a Latin phrase meaning "this for that." See, Sexual Harassment.

Quota. Mandated, fixed hiring and promotion rates based on race, sex, or other protected class standards which must be met by agencies. In extreme cases, the courts have assigned quotas to some employers who have continued to practice illegal discrimination. An agency or any other employer cannot use quotas to meet their affirmative action goals unless a court orders it. Quotas are considered discriminatory against males and other non-minorities.

Reasonable Accommodation. Adjustments and changes an employer would have to make in the work schedule or work environment to meet the needs of employees in a protected group, unless:

These changes are generally applicable to disabled individuals in order to allow them to perform, or better perform, his or her job. Specialized equipment, lowering work tables or even allowing for flexible work schedules may be considered reasonable accommodations for disabled workers. However, reasonable accommodations can also be made for other protected groups, such as allowing employees to use accrued leave for religious observances.

Reasonable Time. Under the EEO regulations, a complainant is allowed a "reasonable" amount of time, away from their assigned duties, to engage in EEO activity. There is no specified length of time; however, the guideline is what the amount of time a "reasonable" person would spend on such activity. Reasonable is generally held to mean the amount of time which would be considered suitable for the particular activity. For example, during the informal counseling phase, an EEO complainant is permitted the time spent speaking with an EEO counselor and/or obtaining information requested by the counselor. It is important to note, however, that in order to be able to receive this allowance (as with any other request for time off) a person must make the request of his or her immediate supervisor.

Remedy. An EEO complainant must specify what corrective action (remedy) they desire as a resolution to their EEO complaint. This requested remedy may take any form, whether it be a written agreement, reinstatement, money or other form of relief. For additional specific discussion of damages and relief, see the 49 CFR 1614 regulation page.

Sexual Harassment. Any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when any of the following are applicable:

See also, web page on Sexual Harassment.