FCC Reduces Station Filing Burden For 2013 EEO Audits

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 7, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we all know, it's easy to complain about the Federal Government these days given the gridlock that currently exists on Capitol Hill, the Sequester, and the looming debt ceiling battle. But let's give credit where credit is due.

The FCC has revised its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) audit letter for all broadcast licensees, and has eased the burden on respondents by eliminating the need to produce copies of each and every job vacancy notice that was sent out to every referral source, allowing stations instead to file only a representative copy of each job opening notice along with a list of the referral sources to which it was sent. In addition, the FCC has changed its audit letter to allow the submission of a single on-air job advertisement log sheet instead of requiring stations to provide multiple log sheets. The letter also states that stations are not required to provide copies of "applicants' resumes ..., company training manuals, posters, employee handbooks, or corporate guidebooks." While responding to an EEO audit remains a time consuming task, the FCC has at least taken a step in the right direction by better focusing the audit request on the most consequential materials.

The new version of the EEO audit letter was, as required by the FCC's rules, sent to randomly selected radio and television stations in the past few weeks. The FCC annually audits the EEO programs of approximately five percent of broadcast stations and has released the list of the stations subject to the most recent audit. All stations, whether targeted for this round of audits or not, should carefully review the FCC's sample audit letter, as it informs stations of what they will need to present when their time comes.

The FCC's EEO rules require broadcast station employment units with five or more full-time employees to recruit broadly and inclusively for all job openings, and require substantial recordkeeping, periodic reports to the FCC, and the placement of those reports in stations' public inspection files and on their websites. Broadcasters must also regularly analyze the results of their recruitment efforts to ensure that broad and inclusive outreach is being achieved and must keep detailed records of their recruitment outreach efforts to submit to the FCC in the event of an EEO audit.

For everything you ever wanted to know about ensuring compliance with the FCC's EEO rules, see our comprehensive and recently updated Client Advisory: "The FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies - A Guide for Broadcasters."

The fact that stations will no longer need to provide multiple ad log sheets or the corporate materials described above will certainly make responding to an audit easier. That said, the FCC's EEO rules are, and will continue to be, a significant regulatory burden on broadcasters. While broadcasters will not be required to submit as much material to the FCC as part of an EEO audit, they will continue to be required to maintain records extensively detailing their job recruitment efforts. In addition, stations should take note that the FCC's Public Notice released with the new version of the EEO audit letter seems to indicate that in exchange for the reduced response burdens, the FCC is raising the bar and now expects stations to adopt a standard of "vigorous recruitment."

Still, despite concerns as to what the FCC means by "vigorous", it's nice to see that the FCC is moving in the direction of simplified audits in an effort to actually ease regulatory filing burdens on broadcasters.

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