Affirmative Action and Head Start

Hiring is an important responsibility of human resources managers and program directors. Program managers need to be aware of the different laws that impact the hiring process, whether it is for full-time or part-time employees, or for staff working under contract. This fact sheet looks at federal policies related to Affirmative Action and employment hiring.   

Enforcing Nondiscrimination Policies

Federal law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of race, color, religion, sex (and being pregnant), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for enforcing EO 11246 and laws protecting veterans and people with disabilities among federal contractors and subcontractors. This includes the requirement that contractors with 50 or more employees and contracts of $50,000 or more have written affirmative action programs to ensure fair treatment of job applicants and employees.

Affirmative action programs outline steps employers commit to take to have their workforce more closely represent the available pool of minority workers. These steps could include expanded outreach, recruitment, training and related activities. Employers should incorporate their affirmative action procedures into the company’s written personnel policies and update them annually.

The Head Start Act addresses employment discrimination in the following section:

Nondiscrimination Provisions
Sec. 654. [42 U.S.C. 9849] (a) The Secretary shall not provide financial assistance for any program, project or activity under this subchapter unless the grant or contract with respect thereto specifically provides that no person with responsibilities in the operation thereof will discriminate with respect to any such program, project, or activity because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, political affiliation, or beliefs.

Therefore, Head Start agencies should have affirmative action policies to protect staff and others with whom they contract for services and supplies. Head Start governing boards should not only be aware of, but also review, these policies. Agencies should also identify Head Start in all job announcements as an equal opportunity employer.

For federal and federally assisted construction contractors, the DOL establishes the affirmative action goals, including specific national goals for women. While the DOL enforces EO 11246, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees equal employment opportunities with employers of 15 or more employees under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This law bans employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Model Workplace

The EEOC has identified the following criteria as being necessary for a model equal employment opportunity (EEO) program:

  • a demonstrated commitment from agency leadership
  • integration of EEO into the agency’s strategic mission
  • management and program accountability
  • proactive prevention of unlawful discrimination
  • efficiency
  • responsive and legal compliance

Federal agencies must monitor their programs for compliance. The EEOC provides leadership and guidance through technical assistance and education to federal agencies on all aspects of the federal government’s EEO program. The EEOC can investigate charges of discrimination against an employer and try to settle a charge if it finds discrimination has occurred. The EEOC can also file a lawsuit on behalf of the person(s) filing a discrimination complaint.

The best way to comply with federal nondiscrimination laws is to create and maintain up-to-date policies and programs that are regularly monitored and shared with the Head Start governing board and the public.

Posted: July 2010

Affirmative Action and Head Start. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Labor. 2010. English.

Last Reviewed: October 2012

Last Updated: November 13, 2014