20. What is “affirmative action”?
Affirmative action is a federal executive order prescribed to protect federal employees and employees of certain federal contractors. To be covered by this executive order, contractors must have 50 or more employees and hold federal contracts of $50,000 or more. Affirmative action principles require covered employers to take actions to ensure that applicants are treated fairly in the application process and that employees are treated fairly during employment. This means that applicants and employees do not suffer a detriment because of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Affirmative actions may include result-oriented procedures used to promote equality in workforce employment and hiring practices. Affirmative action programs generally seek to establish workforces that roughly represent the percentages of qualified individuals present in the available applicant pool (such as the immediate community). Affirmative action programs that prescribe specific numbers of minority hires or provide advantages to minority applicants have been held to be unconstitutional based on grounds of reverse discrimination.
• Note: Private employers who voluntarily adopt affirmative action programs must be careful to avoid quota systems that run afoul of anti-discrimination laws. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance programs can terminate federal contracts with employers who do not comply with its guidelines and can make them ineligible for any future federal business.
• Discussion: How do you feel about affirmative action programs? What are the arguments for and against these programs?
• Practice Question: ABC Corp is a federal contractor. The majority of the employees at the corporation are Caucasian, and it is concerned that the demographics of its work force will disqualify it from future federal contracts. What can ABC Corp do to legally diversify its workforce?