Home » Our Blog » 3 Protected Characteristics for a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
back to the top

3 Protected Characteristics for a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google Plus Share through email Print it More share options

Is your company doing everything it can to safeguard itself from complaints and court filings regarding illegal discrimination during the hiring process? To protect candidates against discriminatory hiring decisions, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has strict regulations regarding six characteristics.

While it’s important for employers to know how to comply with all six protected characteristics, here is a closer look at three of them. (Please note that this list is not comprehensive and does not include state anti-discrimination laws, which can differ from federal laws and each other.)

Join us for this free webinar: Discover How to Hire a Diverse, Inclusive and Effective Team

1. Race, color and national origin

It’s illegal to discriminate against candidates based on race, color or national origin, per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you’re found to have discriminated intentionally against a job candidate, jury trials, compensation and punitive damages may be awarded to individuals, as listed in sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

2. Sex, including pregnancy

Under Title VII, it’s also illegal to discriminate against someone due to his or her sex. Plus, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman due to pregnancy, childbirth or medical conditions related to either.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay different wages to men and women performing the same work in the same workplace. Companies found to have paid women less than men for the same work are at risk for a jury by trial, compensation and punitive damages, according to sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

3. Medical history or genetic information

Often referred to as GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 made it illegal to discriminate based on a candidate’s medical history or genetic information, including family medical history.

In the 2017 case of the EEOC v. Consolidated Edison Company of New York Inc., the Big Apple-based utilities company paid an $800,000 settlement for back wages and damages for requiring job applicants to undergo medical examinations and provide genetic information on their family members before being hired. Consolidated Edison also was found to be discriminating against employees with disabilities.

And the rest …

In addition to these three characteristics, the EEOC protects three more equally as important. To learn more about them, download our free HR e-book, What Your Front-Line Managers Need to Know About Diversity, Inclusion and EEOC Compliance.

If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more information on EEOC compliance be sure to checkout 2 Questions You Never Should Ask a Job Candidate … and What You Should Ask Instead.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

Caty Combs

by Caty Combs

Author Bio: Caty Combs, Paycom’s client marketing supervisor, has more than 10 years of diverse marketing experience in both B2B and B2C. Combs currently markets to existing clients. Prior to joining Paycom, she worked at VI Marketing and Branding in marketing strategy, and previously at Premier Exhibitions in Atlanta, GA as the Public Relations and Marketing Manager. She is currently a member of the American Marketing Association in Oklahoma City.

NCAA Tournament

Swish! 5 Talent Lessons I’ve Already Learned From the NCAA Tournament This March

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google Plus Share through email Print it More share options

If you’re like me, you’re involved in the NCAA Tournament in some form or fashion. If you’re not actively watching the games, you are connected to the spectacle in one of two ways:

You filled out a bracket.

It’s team-building 101 in many organizations and goes something like this:

  • You complete your bracket.
  • It gets busted in the first weekend (meaning you have no chance to win after the first two rounds).
  • Then the inevitable happens: Someone with zero knowledge of basketball leads your office pool and just gives you a shrug when you ask about their secret. (Their secret, by the way, is that they don’t overestimate their knowledge of college basketball.)


You connected to the tournament via the inevitable Cinderella story.

This year’s Cinderella stories in are many, but none are better than history’s first No. 16 seed, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, knocking off a No. 1 seed, University of Virginia. If you didn’t hear about that upset, chances are you live under a rock and consume no media whatsoever. The upset was so perfect that Final Four legend turned color commentator Chris Weber noted that UMBC could stand for “U Must Be Cinderella.” Corny? Yes. Perfect? Also yes.

Swish! 8 Engagement Strategies to Drive Game Winning Performance, a bracketology webinar for management styles! 

Watercooler chat about basketball is hard to avoid in the month of March, and it’s also hard for HR pros like me to avoid turning it into a learning opportunity. With that in mind, here are five talent lessons I learned from the first weekend of The Big Dance:

1. Uniqueness wins because it’s hard to prepare for.

Whether it’s hoops or business, being different from others means you’re hard to prepare for. Syracuse deploys a defensive scheme called the 2-3 zone, while most other schools use a man-to-man approach. That means they are hard to prepare for, which was key when knocking off one of the tourney favorites, Michigan State. When you have a strategic plan that’s different than your competitors and the talent to pull it off, your organization will get unexpected wins – simply because you look and feel different from others.

2. Conservative approaches decrease your margin for error.

UMBC’s aforementioned upset of Virginia is a great example of this truth. The UMBC Retrievers play a conservative style on both offense and defense; they aren’t incredibly talented, but they execute their base strategy very well. That conservative approach wins a lot, but in a “lose one game and you’re out” type of environment, it can be deadly. The other team gets hot, and suddenly, you’re out.

The moral of the story? Even if you have a great team, never stop trying to upgrade the talent you have. Conservative approaches in basketball (the “grinding out wins” mentality) are used because they are the best way to win with average talent. The same thing is true in business.

3. Great individual talent can overcome huge disadvantages in company size and resources.

If you ever find yourself going up against Microsoft, Google or whoever the 800-pound gorilla is in your industry, never forget that a key hire with high talent can help you win more than your share, regardless of the product or service you’re providing. This is shown to be true time and time again in this month’s tournament. Whether it’s UMBC beating Virginia, or Buffalo taking down Arizona, once you step onto the court, only five players can play. Get yourself some great talent and unbelievable things can happen.

4. Matchups matter a lot – whether you’re competing on the court or responding to an RFP.

Every project, implementation or sales pitch is different. The most successful companies have managers who know how to get the most out of human capital – and tweak their approach based on the client or prospect in front of them. The most successful coaches do the same thing: Create new plans for each game, based on the challenges that are presented.

5. Great leadership is easy when you win, but more valuable when you lose.

It’s easy to look great as a coach when you win. But take a look at this compelling video of Virginia coach Tony Bennett after the UMBC loss. Being able to console your team members and show them the way forward after a crushing defeat, layoff or other negative event is key. Bennett does this with grace, which means he’s teaching and supporting in a way that transcends the game at hand. Your best managers do the same.

Every year, I’m reminded how much commonality there is between the NCAA Tourney and our lives as talent professionals.

I just wish my bracket weren’t busted after the first weekend.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog, Featured, HR Management, Leadership

by Kris Dunn

Author Bio: Kris Dunn is a partner and CHRO at the Atlanta-based Kinetix, a national recruitment process outsourcing firm for growth companies. He is the founder of two industry-leading blogs – Fistful of Talent and The HR Capitalist – and has written more than 70 feature columns for Workforce Management magazine. He previously served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular.

How to Build a Harassment-Free Workplace Culture

How to Build a Harassment-Free Workplace Culture

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google Plus Share through email Print it More share options

Sexual harassment quickly can deteriorate – and even derail – any organization, making anti-harassment training vital. However, most companies address the issue with employees by pushing training that is routine, which is often ineffective on its own. Effective prevention of harassment in the workplace starts with creating a culture that identifies and rejects unacceptable behaviors.

Although an HR department’s role is primarily to protect the interests of the company, adopting policies and procedures for harassment and discrimination can help align the interest of both the organization and its employees. What steps can businesses take to balance both interests?

Accountability from the top down

Workplace culture is the reflection of an organization’s values, behaviors and attitudes. A healthy culture is critical to attracting top talent, driving employee engagement and retention and improving performance.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s June 2016 report, “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace,” leaders can take several steps to improve workplace culture surrounding harassment:

  1. Emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion. Harassment prevention based solely on a compliance mindset is unlikely to be successful.
  2. Conduct surveys to determine whether employees experience harassment in the workplace. The results should determine whether employees feel harassment – if it exists – is tolerated.
  3. Implement effective policies and procedures, then conduct trainings on them.
  4. Support the policies, procedures and training with resources, whether time or money. There is no better way to convey to employees that efforts are authentic and credible than by dedicating sufficient company resources.
  5. Vest any department, team or task force charged with creating and maintaining a harassment-free workplace with the authority to make decisions.


Training that does not simply check a box

A healthy culture of equality starts with the tone from leadership. Organizational leadership must take an active role in defining acceptable workplace behavior, ensuring these behaviors are part of the company’s stated values, and investing in programs to promote a positive environment.

Although most people could identify blatant harassment such as “quid pro quo” – that is, offering to give an employee something in return for the employee’s satisfaction of a sexual demand – not all forms of harassment are universally recognized.

Anywhere from 25% to 85% of men and women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the EEOC. The wide divergence in the percentage is due, in part, to a knowledge gap of what actually constitutes sex-based harassment. When asked whether they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion at work, the percentage of women claiming harassment was much lower. However, when explained that sex-based harassment includes “gender harassment,” which are hostile behaviors without sexual interest, the percentage increased dramatically. Gender harassment differs from unwanted sexual advances in that the behavior aims to insult and reject a person based on gender stereotypes.

To create an environment free of harassment, employees throughout the organization must understand clearly conduct that is acceptable and that is not. Implementing interactive training on reporting procedures, unacceptable conduct and, more importantly, applying policies consistently – regardless of position within the organization – can dramatically improve culture.

A compelling business case

Put simply, employers should invest in preventing harassment not only because it is wrong, but because they have a legal obligation to do so. However, a deeper dive reveals organizations have an incentive beyond moral and legal to mitigate harassment: a financial one.

The direct costs to an organization are staggering. According to the EEOC, since 2010, employers have paid $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment through the agency’s administrative enforcement pre-litigation process. If a claim advances to litigation, the impact tends to grow even more substantial; for example, according to eBossWatch’s review of all harassment litigation in 2012, employers paid more than $356 million for workplace harassment complaints.

Although less measureable, the indirect costs can be considerable. Reports of pervasive sexual misconduct within high-profile organizations have dominated the headlines for months. Allowing – or in some cases, encouraging – a culture of harassment and discrimination has caused substantial reputational damage to those organizations.

More importantly, the human toll is significant. Employees subject to a hostile work environment can experience mental and physical harm. Depression, anxiety, chronic headaches and sleep, respiratory and cardiovascular problems have been linked to those experiencing harassment. When employees experience these conditions, companies suffer from decreased productivity and increased turnover.

When organizational leadership prioritizes creating a harassment-free workplace culture by emphasizing values of diversity and inclusion, implementing effective training, allocating sufficient resources and applying policies and procedures consistently, the interests of the company begin to align with those of its employees.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

Tags: ,
Posted in Blog, Compliance, Employment Law, Featured

Matthew Paque

by Matthew Paque

Author Bio: Matthew A. Paque is Paycom’s Director of Legal and Compliance. In this role, he is responsible for Paycom’s legal affairs including compliance and risk management. He has served in a variety of leadership and legal positions in both the private sector and in government. Before joining Paycom, Paque was an attorney at the law firm of McAfee & Taft and previously was Assistant General Counsel at Tronox a global mining and chemical company. He holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. from Oklahoma City University. Paque is also an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business.

Unconscious Bias

3 Steps to Prevent Unconscious Bias in the Interview Process

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google Plus Share through email Print it More share options

You do it. I do it. We all do it.

No, I’m not talking about converting oxygen into carbon dioxide – although you may need to take a deep breath before reading further. I’m talking about that unquestionably human habit of prejudging someone or something, whether in a positive or negative light.

That little prejudge is known as unconscious bias. Most people harbor some bias, although they may not realize it. For employers, unconscious bias can cause big trouble if interviewers unfairly favor or dismiss a candidate during the hiring process.

According to Harvard Business Review, when interviewers without standardized questions are left to decide which candidate to hire, their decisions tend to be subjective and unconsciously influenced by fixed thoughts on race, gender and ethnicity. Considering the strict regulations set forth by the U.S.  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), interviewers can get into hot water quickly, without even realizing they’re doing something wrong.

Discover How to Hire a Diverse, Inclusive and Effective Team 

To help avoid risk, empower your hiring managers to follow these three steps.

Introduce performance-based questions

As the great equalizers, performance-based questions center on what employees must do to be successful in their roles. This includes questions to assess how they have addressed challenges in other roles, and hypothetical questions to judge how candidates would approach the challenges your company faces. The trick is to ask each candidate the same questions so you have a fair assessment.

If you’re wondering what a performance-based question sounds like, here’s an example: “Thinking about a time in which a project didn’t go as planned, what actions did you take to correct it as quickly as possible?”

Measure applicants’ answers

Performance-based questions are worth nothing unless you have a system to compare applicants’ answers. Next, you’ll want to compare their responses with something called a standardized rubric. Using a rubric means everyone involved in the hiring process agrees on what the important questions are and what an excellent answer would be. Without it, comparisons simply are not apples-to-apples. You easily can create a rubric by asking those who already perform the role what success looks like.

Train your staff

Finally, train your staff to recognize and counter biases during the hiring process. This is especially important when multiple interviewers screen for an open position. Make sure everyone knows to take good notes so they can compare candidates’ answers with the rubric. It’s important that everyone involved is on the same page, especially with which elements indicate future success.

Eliminating unconscious bias in the interview process is hard, especially when multiple parties are involved. That’s why it’s critical to factor performance-based questions into the equation, making it much easier to focus on candidates who possess the right skill set for the position at hand.

Learn more by downloading our free e-book, Discover What Your Front-Line Managers Need to Know About Hiring, Diversity Inclusion and EEOC Compliance.

Related articles:

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog, Compliance, Employment Law, Featured

Monica Johnson

by Monica Johnson

Author Bio: As Paycom’s client marketing specialist, Monica Johnson utilizes a mixture of marketing and human capital management knowledge gained from years of industry experience. A graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma, Johnson has been with Paycom since 2013 and has served in numerous roles during her career with the company. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, exploring Oklahoma City and sipping coffee, while reading a good book, at one of her favorite local shops.


Contact Us

  • Are you a current Paycom Client?



    • Talent Acquisition

    • Time & Labor Management

    • Payroll

    • Talent Management

    • HR Management

  • Subscribe me to Paycom's newsletter.


We promise never to sell, rent or share your personal information with a third party unless required by law. By submitting this form, you accept our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.