Two fines for EEO violations released Friday were among the rush of actions coming from the FCC last week as it tries to finish its work of 2014. Incentive auction procedures, MVPD redefinition, online public file issues, approvals of long-pending TV company mergers and so many other actions were taken in the last week that we can’t keep up. Now, we can add EEO violations to the list of year-end actions, as the FCC’s Media Bureau on Friday released two Notices of Apparent Liability to radio stations operators for violating the EEO rules, proposing fines of $5000 and $9000. While, in both cases, the stations are principally faulted for their failure to engage in wide dissemination of job openings, one case cites a new issue as the issue partially underlying the EEO fine – the failure to actually provide notice of job openings to all of the recruitment sources that had requested that the station notify them when there are job vacancies. Both cases arose from station license renewal applications filed about more than 3 years ago.
Each EEO employment unit (stations under common control, serving the same geographic area and sharing a common employee) with 5 or more full-time employees must engage in the three prongs of the FCC’s EEO outreach requirements. First, they must engage in wide dissemination of information about job openings, using a variety of recruitment sources to ensure that information about job openings at a station reach all of the diverse groups of people that may be represented within the station’s recruitment area. Secondly, they must let groups within the community know that they can ask to be notified of job openings at the station when such openings arise (and in fact provide such notice when the openings do arise). Finally, they must engage “non-vacancy specific outreach efforts” – activities to educate the community about broadcast employment – what people do in broadcast jobs, how they can find out about the jobs, and what sort of training or experience is necessary for jobs in the industry. It was violations of these first two prongs of the FCC’s EEO program that got the stations in trouble in these two recent orders.
In both of the cases released Friday, the stations had limited their outreach efforts for a number of their openings to what the Commission considers to be internal station sources – internal referrals from station employees, word-of-mouth referrals from clients or consultants or others who already have connections to the station, and the station’s own on-air announcements or announcements on their own websites. To avoid Commission scrutiny, the station must also use outside sources to help in recruiting – sources like other media in the community, employment agencies, and direct outreach to community groups and educational institutions which are likely to refer potential employees to the station. In one of these cases, the station had six job openings in the two-year period under review in the license renewal pending before the FCC, and had reached out to non-station employment sources in only three cases, bringing a $5000 fine. In the second case, the station group had not engaged in this wide dissemination for 4 out of 13 openings, bringing a $9000 fine. But there was another wrinkle in that second case leading to the increased fine it now faces.
Part of the $9000 fine was imposed because the station not only did not widely disseminate information about job openings, but it also did not comply with the second prong of the outreach efforts – it did not tell all of the groups that asked to be notified of job openings about 8 of the 13 job openings. Also adding to the fine in both cases was the determination that the stations had not engaged in any meaningful “self-assessment” of their programs as they had not discovered the issues identified by the FCC in these decision. Being faulted for the lack of self-assessment is noted in almost every FCC decision on an EEO violation as it almost proves itself and lets the FCC add to the list of violations – if you violated the rules, you didn’t do adequate self-assessment to catch the violation.
The decisions also come with “reporting conditions,” requiring the filing of detailed EEO information every year for the next three years – so the FCC can each year review the stations group’s compliance – like having an annual EEO audit. These station groups will not be the only ones being reviewed by the FCC this year. In 2015, EEO Mid-Term Reports begin for radio stations that filed their renewal applications in 2011. Every station that is part of an employment unit with 11 or more full-time employees needs to file these reports on FCC Form 397, providing two years of EEO information to the FCC for review. As many stations will be subject to EEO scrutiny either through these reports or through EEO audits (where the FCC promises to audit 5% of all stations every year – see our article about the last set of broadcast audits, here), use these decisions as a reminder to review your program to make sure that you don’t run into problems when the FCC looks at your EEO performance. For more information about EEO obligations, see some of our previous articles here, here and here.