Affirmative Action in the Workplace Term Paper

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Human Resource Management Issues -- Affirmative Action

The long history of the United States includes a shameful three-century-long period during which African people were rounded up in their native lands, bound by shackles, forced into the putrid, rat-infested holds of ships, and transported to North America where they were worked, often to death, as slaves, especially in the southern states. Despite the fact that the institution of slavery officially ended by the 1865 enactment of the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment, known as the Emancipation Proclamation, it would be an entire century before black Americans received the full rights of citizenship and the same protections of law to which they had officially been entitled since the era immediately following end of the American Civil War.

During that time, they endured systemic discrimination, frequently with the outright support or tacit approval of local, state, and federal authorities, including law enforcement (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009). Blacks were routinely denied their most basic constitutionally protected rights and many southern states enacted so-called Jim Crow Laws, expressly designed and intended to prevent black Americans from being able to exercise their rights, particularly their voting rights. Even in northern states, public facilities remained largely segregated and black Americans were excluded from educational, employment, and housing opportunities throughout the country (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009). By the civil rights era, the infiltration of racist hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan into local police agencies prompted federal authorities to take over and the governors of several southern states had to be confronted by armed U.S. marshals and soldiers from the national guard sent by the Kennedy administration before they would step away from the fro door of public universities when the first black students tried to exercise their constitutional right to equal education confirmed several years earlier in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that finally reversed the obnoxious earlier 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson that established the concept of "separate but equal" (Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).

Concept and History of Affirmative Action in the United States

Naturally, the securing of civil rights and equality under the law that American blacks finally achieved in the U.S. during the 1960s was a monumental positive step in race relations and in national morality. Nevertheless, it was undeniable that the previous history of outright discrimination and racial prejudice against blacks and other minorities placed members of those communities at a tremendous disadvantage in terms of competing for educational and vocational opportunities against members of the majority communities who had never suffered those types and degrees of deprivations in the U.S.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the first executive order articulating the order for government contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin" and "not [to] discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin" (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009). Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a subsequent related executive order instructing the federal government to "promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each executive department and agency" (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009). Since then, Affirmative Action programs have evolved to provide special opportunities to blacks and to members of other minority races in education, employment, and housing.

In principle, the concept of Affirmative Action is that members of minority races that endured long-term discrimination and lack of fair opportunities cannot capitalize on the newly available equal opportunities because generations of discrimination and de facto exclusion from some of the most important aspects of American society for so long have placed them at an insurmountable disadvantage. Therefore, Affirmative Action programs are expressly designed to compensate for and offset some of those disadvantages to provide a level playing field for minority group members to compete more fairly for opportunities to education, housing, and employment.

Relevance of Affirmative Action in Contemporary Human Resource Management

Technically, compliance with Affirmative Action policies is only a formal mandatory requirement in the public sector (Halbert & Ingulli, 2009); it is not binding on private sector hiring organizations. On the other hand, Affirmative Action is closely related to the formal mandatory requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Acts of 1990 and 2008. Compliance with formal prohibitions against discrimination in the workplace in relation to hiring, firing, promotion, benefits, and all other aspects of employee relations is an important responsibility of all employing organizations in the U.S. Violations of those requirements are monitored, investigated, and prosecuted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the independent federal enforcement agency created by the Johnson Administration in 1965 (Halbert & Ingulli, 2009).

In the public sector, there is little distinction between the requirements under the EEOC provisions and Affirmative Action because veterans, members of minority groups, and disabled persons are entitled, under federal law, to certain preferential hiring policies intended to promote equal opportunity for those whose circumstances justify those accommodations and considerations (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009; Halbert & Ingulli, 2009). Naturally, human resource management professionals working in the public sector must be thoroughly familiar with the specific ways that applicable laws require them to handle employment applications from eligible Affirmative Action beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, Affirmative Action is merely a recommended policy rather than once that requires mandatory compliance (Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2009; Halbert & Ingulli, 2009). Therefore, in the private sector, human resource management professionals typically encounter Affirmative Action issues mainly in relation to handling diversity issues in the workplace rather than formal legal compliance issues. Nevertheless, there are numerous delicate issues that can arise in connection with Affirmative Action that necessitate expert handling by human resource to avoid the potential consequences in the realm of civil liability, recruitment, retention, and the evolution and long-term maintenance of a healthy organizational culture.

Relevance to Recruitment, Liability, and Retention

In the area of prospective employee recruitment, private sector organizations can establish policies and initiatives that promote the ideals and values of Affirmative Action by making an effort to promote employment opportunities in low-income communities and communities with predominantly minority populations. In that regard, human resource management personnel are responsible for identifying target communities and for establishing, promoting, and executing recruitment programs intended to benefit individuals in those communities. Furthermore, the establishment of educational and career opportunity development programs in those communities is another manner in which organizations that choose to support Affirmative Action policies frequently implement those values (George & Jones, 2008; Robbins & Judge, 2009).

While Affirmative Action per se does not subject private sector employing organizations to mandatory compliance, it is, nevertheless, a potential source of civil liability precisely because Affirmative Action and EEOC compliance issues are so closely related (Halbert & Ingulli, 2009). For example, in the private sector, employers need not make any allowances with respect to evaluating prospective employees based on minority status. However, there may be issues in the realm of private beliefs and attitudes harbored by various members of the organization about the relative merits of certain individuals for their positions.

In many cases, the expression of those private beliefs and attitudes publicly presents potential opportunities for violations of EEOC laws. More specifically, where those attitudes are expressed by coworkers, they may become the source of claims that the organization maintains a work environment that is hostile to members of protected classes under EEOC provisions. More importantly, where those attitudes or beliefs are expressed by supervisors or employees in management positions, they may lead to claims of discrimination in hiring and promotions, in particular. Therefore, the responsibility of providing the necessary employee training in sensitivity to diversity in the workplace falls squarely onto human resource management to mitigate the risk of both potential sources of civil liability (Halbert & Ingulli, 2009).

Moreover, aside from the moral imperative and the issues of liability mitigation, organizational human resource management departments also understand that effective management and training of diversity issues in the workplace benefits recruitment, especially by word of mouth in minority communities. Likewise, organizational values and attitudes in that regard undoubtedly play an important role in the satisfaction of organizational personnel of minority persuasion and are ultimately reflected in retention rates as well (George & Jones, 2008; Robbins & Judge, 2009).

Relevance to Organizational Policy, Culture, and Change Management

In some respects, management of Affirmative Action-based issues in the private sector is more complex than ensuring compliance with formal EEOC regulations because it pertains more to understanding and changing personal attitudes and values more than to external behavior. Unlike legal compliance issues, establishing and promoting an organizational culture that is consistent with Affirmative Action principles is a long-term process that relies on changing mindsets rather than behavior. Examples of issues and…[continue]

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