Human Resources

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. Per the US Department of Labor (DOL) website:

The Executive Order prohibits federal contractors and federally–assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. The Executive Order also requires government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment. Additionally, Executive Order 11246 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from, under certain circumstances, taking adverse employment actions against applicants and employees for asking about, discussing, or sharing information about their pay or the pay of their co–workers.

Affirmative action programs outline steps employers commit to take to have their workforce more closely represent the diversity of the workforce. 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 bodies 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. Agency personnel programs and policies should be evaluated regularly to ascertain whether such programs have any barriers that tend to limit or restrict equitable opportunities for open competition in the workplace.

EEO MD-715 divides the essential elements of model agency EEO programs into six broad categories, as listed below. An agency should review its EEO and personnel programs, policies and performance standards against all six elements to identify where their EEO program can become more effective.

The six essential elements for a model EEO program, as described in EEO-MD-715, at PART A, II. A-F, and PART B, III. A-F, are as follows:

  1. Demonstrated commitment from agency leadership
  2. Integration of EEO into the agency's strategic mission
  3. Management and program accountability
  4. Proactive prevention of unlawful discrimination
  5. Efficiency
  6. Responsiveness and legal compliance

These six elements serve as the foundation upon which each agency shall build its program.

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 body and the public. Utilizing the resources provided by the federal government, such as the web sites listed below will assist compliance efforts.

November 2016

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  2016.

United States Department of Labor. EO 11246 2016.