With the Martin Luther King Day holiday just passed, it seems appropriate to review the FCC’s EEO rules, which look to promote broad access to broadcast employment opportunities.  The FCC’s EEO rules no longer seek exclusively to promote minority employment, but instead seek to have stations reach out to all groups within the area they serve to try to attract people from diverse sources into broadcasting – rather than allowing stations to simply recruit through word-of-mouth and traditional broadcast sources (e.g. referrals from consultants and friends).  We have written about the FCC audit process by which it will review the EEO performance of approximately 5% of all broadcast stations each year (see, e.g. our articles here and here) and also about recent fines for stations that did not comply with the FCC requirements in specific areas.  With EEO review also expanding this year through the filing of FCC Form 397 Mid-Term Reports by radio station clusters with 11 or more full-time employees located in certain states (see the list of states on our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar), it might be good to review the basics of the FCC’s EEO requirements.

The FCC requirements, beyond forbidding any station from engaging in overt discrimination, also requires broad outreach to a station’s community to recruit for open employment positions at any station, as well as efforts to educate the community about the duties of and qualifications for  positions at broadcast stations, whether or not a station has any job openings.  These requirements apply to any station employment unit (a group of commonly-owned stations serving the same general geographic area and having one or more common employees) with 5 or more full-time (30 hours per week or more) employees.  What do the outreach rules require of stations?

Generally, there are three prongs to the FCC’s EEO outreach rules.  First, a station must engage in wide dissemination of all full-time job openings.  Wide dissemination requires that a broadcaster take steps, through media outlets, employment agencies, and direct contact with community organizations, to seek candidates for any open full-time employment position at any station.  While stations can use their own resources to recruit, simply relying on those sources and sources on the Internet has been deemed to be insufficient under FCC precedent (see for instance, cases we wrote about here and here) to meet the requirements.  Instead, a station needs to use additional sources to attempt to get word of job openings out to significant community groups in its service area.  Stations need to track their outreach for each open full-time job, and keep records of where those that they interview and hire heard about the job opening at the station.  That information needs to be reported in required FCC filings, and in a public inspection file report placed in their public file (and available through their website).  The dates that the EEO public file report must go into the public file depends on the state in which your stations are licensed – see our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar for more details. 

In addition to wide dissemination, notice of job openings must also be provided to community groups that ask for such notice.  Stations need to publicize the fact that community groups can request that they be included on the list of groups to be notified.  Referrals from these groups must also be tracked and reported.  Failure to keep these groups notified of job openings has also resulted in fines (see our articles here and here).

Finally, all stations with 5 or more full-time employees, even if a station does not have any employment openings, must nevertheless engage in “non-vacancy specific recruitment efforts’ – basically efforts to educate the community about jobs and job openings at broadcast stations, and to train station employees on employment issues.  The FCC has listed 16 different categories of such outreach efforts that need to be conducted regularly – with multiple efforts every two years, the number of which is dependent on the station size and the size of the market in which it operates.  Examples of these activities include internships and mentorship programs, speaking activities designed to let inform school audiences or civic groups about employment positions at stations and the training necessary for such jobs, scholarship programs, attending job fairs, and developing training programs at stations either to qualify existing employees for more advanced positions or to train management employees on EEO matters.

Stations need not only to track and report on these activities, but also to routinely review them to make sure that they are achieving their desired results.  In many recent FCC fines for EEO violations, stations have been fined not only for not doing the outreach, but also for not doing an adequate “self-assessment” of the results of their program (presumably on the theory that, if they had been self-assessing their program, they would have caught the deficiencies).

This is but a high level overview of the FCC’s broadcast EEO program.  There are many other details and nuances, some of which were covered in an FCC seminar in which I participated several years ago (find the link to video from that seminar in the article here).  Obviously, if this outline does not cover what your station is doing, you need to take steps right away to make sure that your program will be in compliance to avoid problems if the FCC audits your performance in the upcoming year.