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Glossary of Terms


Age: A person’s age; the length of time that a person has lived.

Affirmative Action: Positive steps taken by an employer to address any barriers that prevent equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Note that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s MD 715, issued in 2003, does not refer to affirmative action for race/ethnicity or gender groups.

Affirmative Employment Plans (AEP): Written plans for programs required by Executive Order 11478 and other laws and regulations that prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age, and require agencies to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative program. AEPs may contain workforce analysis of the distribution of each group compared to the benchmark, noting any areas where the group has a low participation rate. The AEP may include goals and timetables for addressing any identified barriers to full participation.

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Bias: A term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, especially when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective. The term biased is used to describe an action, judgment, or other outcome influenced by a prejudged perspective. It is also used to refer to a person or body of people whose actions or judgments exhibit bias. In this context, the term "biased" is often used as a pejorative.

Bisexual: A person emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily simultaneously; a bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary as sexual identity develops over time.

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Caregiving responsibilities (Caregiver): Currently, many workers juggle both work and caregiving responsibilities. Those responsibilities extend not only to spouses and children, but also to parents and other older family members, or relatives with disabilities. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Civilian Labor Force (CLF): Persons, 16 years of age or over, excluding those in the Armed Forces, who are employed or seeking employment. CLF data is used as a benchmark for analyzing the distribution of an agency’s workforce by race/ethnicity and gender.

Class Complaint/Class Action: A complaint stated or filed by a group of people who feel that personnel or management policies or practices discriminate against them as a group. Members of the group believe that the characteristic they share -- race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability --forms the basis for the discrimination. For example, a class may be made up of women who believe they have been consistently discriminated against at an agency because of their sex. In such a case, all female employees, past and present, and all female applicants would be included in the complaint. When a class complaint goes to court, it becomes a class action. As with complaints by individuals, illegal discrimination may or may not have occurred.

COIN PAID: Computer Output Identification Number Personnel and Accounting Integrated Data system reports are the historical source for automated personnel data in VA.

Color: Referring to a person’s skin pigmentation (lightness or darkness of the skin), complexion, shade, or tone.

Complaint: The first step taken by an employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against. An EEO complaint is an allegation of illegal discrimination, filed by a person who believes s/he was unfairly treated against a person because of their characteristics that cause them to be part of a protected class: race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability. The allegation itself is not proof that illegal discrimination has taken place. The investigation that follows the filing of a complaint will determine whether illegal discrimination has, in fact, occurred. A person who files a complaint is called the complainant.

Cultural differences: The diverse behaviors, beliefs, customs, traditions, language and expressions that are characteristic to groups of people of a particular race, ethnicity or national origin. May address organizational culture (e.g. the diverse practices, customs, traditions, language, and expressions that are characteristic of the entire organization or component of an organization).

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Discrimination: Discrimination means noticing the differences between things or people that are otherwise alike, and making decisions based on those differences. We discriminate when we buy one product over another, when we choose our friends, and when we make personnel decisions based on merit-related factors. All these forms of discrimination are legal and necessary.

However, some types of discrimination in employment are not legal. Illegal discrimination is unfavorable treatment of a person by category, class, or group rather than objective treatment on the basis of merit. Under EEO law, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, or disability. Illegal discrimination can be intentional or unintentional. See Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact.

Disparate Impact: Under Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) law, this is a less favorable effect for one group than for another. A disparate impact results when rules applied to all employees have a different and more inhibiting effect on one or more protected groups than on the workforce as a whole or most groups in the workforce. For example, nonessential educational requirements for certain jobs can have a disparate impact on certain groups looking for work, if they are limited in their access to educational opportunities.

Disparate Treatment: Inconsistent application of rules and policies to one group of people over another. Discrimination may result when rules and policies are applied differently to members of one or more protected classes compared to others. Disciplining Hispanic male employees for tardiness, while ignoring tardiness among other employees, is an example of disparate treatment. Such inconsistent application of rules often leads to EEO complaints.

Diversity: The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness. Diversity goes well beyond race, ethnicity, gender, disability status and age; it encompasses mutable characteristics like education and immutable characteristics like birth order.

Diversity Management: A process intended to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximize their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives.

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Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO): The goal of EEO laws is to make some types of discrimination in employment illegal. Under EEO law, only job-related factors can be used to determine whether an individual is qualified for a particular job.

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws: Six laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability in any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The six EEO laws are:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the Pregnancy Disability Act of 1978
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2009
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991

Ethnic Group: A group of people whose members may identify with each other, through a common heritage, a common language, a common culture, a shared religion, or a shared ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy.

Ethnicity: Ethnicity refers to belonging to an ethnic group.

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FEORP: The annual Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program report is published by OPM and presented to Congress. The report covers on Federal agency recruiting initiatives designed to eliminate low participation rates for certain groups in the Federal workforce.

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Gay: A word describing a man or a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to members of the same sex.

Gender Identity: An individual's internal sense of being male or female. Source: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (

Gender Identity: One’s personal sense of their gender. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own sense of gender identity do not match.

Genetic Information: Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an individual’s family members (i.e. family medical history). Family medical history is included in the definition of genetic information because it is often used to determine whether someone has an increased risk of getting a disease, disorder, or condition in the future. Genetic information also includes an individual's request for, or receipt of, genetic services, or the participation in clinical research that includes genetic services by the individual or a family member of the individual, and the genetic information of a fetus carried by an individual or by a pregnant woman who is a family member of the individual and the genetic information of any embryo legally held by the individual or family member using an assisted reproductive technology. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Goals: In an affirmative action context, a goal is a numerical value or flexible target that an agency aims to meet. Agencies are required to set hiring goals for people with disabilities and people with targeted disabilities. This is the only group for which agencies are required or even permitted to set hiring goals.

Grade: A term used for the pay levels of Title 5 employees. Although Title 38 employees are ranked by Tiers instead of GS levels, their pay data is extrapolated for the agency data tables on pay distribution.

Grade Groupings: An accumulation of a group of people in specific grades, usually grades one through four, five through seven, nine through twelve, and thirteen through fifteen.

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Harassment: Any unwelcome, hostile or offensive conduct taken on a prohibited basis that interferes with an individual’s performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

Human Resources Flexibilities: Policies and practices that an agency has the authority to implement in managing its workforce. Existing flexibilities that are most effective in managing the workforce are work/life programs (such as alternative work schedules, child care assistance, and transit subsidies), monetary recruitment and retention incentives (such as recruitment bonuses and retention allowances), special hiring authorities (such as student employment and outstanding scholar programs), and incentive awards for notable job performance and contributions (such as cash and time-off awards).

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Inclusion: A practice that enables the full participation and contribution of the workforce in support of the mission of the organization by eliminating implicit and explicit barriers. Inclusion practices allow agencies to leverage the diverse talents and attributes of the entire workforce by configuring work opportunities, business processes, functional operations, rewards systems, work-life options, professional interactions, communications, information-sharing, and decision-making to empower the full potential of all employees.

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Job Related: Essential to job performance. The knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience necessary to perform a particular job. Tests are job related if they test whether an applicant or employee can perform the job in question. A rule or practice is job related if it is necessary for the safe and efficient performance of a particular job. For example, a rule prohibiting employees from wearing loose, flowing clothing around high-speed rotating equipment is job related. However, the same rule applied in an office with no rotating equipment is not job related and may have a disparate impact on some ethnic groups.

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Labor Force/Labor Market: Labor Force describes all civilians who are at least 16 years old and are employed or looking for work. The labor market is a group within the labor force whose members could fill a particular job. To be considered part of the labor market for a GS-5 clerical position, for instance, an individual must meet all minimum job-related requirements for that grade and classification. For most jobs, employers can find enough applicants in the local labor market. For jobs that have high minimum qualifications, employers may need to tap the national labor market to find enough applicants.

Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to other women.

LGBT: An acronym for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.” For additional information, visit our LGBT Organizations page:

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Major Occupations: Those occupational series within an agency that have the largest number of authorized positions either actual or projected, or are deemed mission critical.

Marital Status: The status of being an individual who is married or single. Discrimination based on marital status can occurs when management demonstrates a preference for employees or applicants who are married or single. An example would be assuming that married employees have family responsibilities which limit their ability to travel, and hiring only those applicants who are known to be single for a job requiring much travel. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Merit Principles: The rules established by the Office of Personnel Management that the federal government must follow in hiring, promoting, and all terms and conditions of employment. One of those rules states that selection and advancement shall be made on the basis of an applicant or employee's abilities, knowledge, and skills in fair and open competition.

Minority: The smaller part of a group. In EEO context, a minority is a group within a country or state that differs in race, religion, or national origin from the dominant group.

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National Origin: Birthplace, ancestry, culture, linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group, or accent. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Numerical Goal: A target number of qualified individuals hired and advanced within a given period of time through an Affirmative Action Program. A numerical goal for hiring is permitted only for people with disabilities. EEOC requires numerical goals for the hiring of people with targeted disabilities. A numerical or ratio goal for recruitment and applications may be established for any group.

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OPM: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management establishes standards for recruitment and hiring for positions in public service.

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PAID Reports: Reports containing Personnel Accounting Integrated Data.

Parental Status: The status of being an individual who, with respect to an individual who is under the age of 18, or who is 18 or older but is incapable of self-care because of a physical or mental disability, is: a biological parent; an adoptive parent; a foster parent; a stepparent; a custodian of a legal ward; in loco parentis to such an individual; or actively seeking legal custody or adoption of such an individual. A person stands “in loco parentis” when he or she has day-to-day responsibility to care for and financially support a child. A biological or legal relationship is not necessary. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Participation Rate: The percentage of people from each race/ethnicity/gender group in the workforce. The participation rate is compared to the appropriate benchmark to determine if it is above or below the benchmark. For example, each group’s ratio in the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) is used as a standard to determine low participation rates in the on board work force. Suppose there are 1,000 employees at an agency and 30 of them (or 3 percent) are black men. If the CLF for black men is 15 percent, black men have a low participation rate at this facility.

PATCOB: Professional, Administrative, Technical, Clerical, Other, and Blue Collar occupational categories established by EEOC. Note that these categories have fallen out of use because EEOC no longer provides CLF data for them.

Pay Disparity: When individuals in one or more race/ethnicity, gender, or disability group have not achieved the same pay distribution as the total facility or agency workforce. For example, if ten percent of the total workforce were in the GS 15/equivalent pay category, it would be expected that ten percent of the employees who are black men would be at GS 15/equivalent. Pay distribution is measured by EEOC’s MD 715 Data Table 4-2.

Person with a Disability: A person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that hampers their ability to perform one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Political Affiliation: Discrimination based on political affiliation occurs when management demonstrates a preference for, or aversion to, employees or applicants belonging to a particular political party or having associates with connections to a particular political party. An example might be hiring only those applicants, and promoting only those employees, known to be members of a given party during a period when that party heads the administration. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Pregnancy: Pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Prima Facie: This Latin term translates as "on first view" or "at first appearance." In EEO cases, complainants present evidence and arguments to support a claim of discrimination. After the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the complainant's rejection. In the EEO area, statistics of low participation rates or underutilization have been sufficient to make a prima facie case for discrimination.

Protected Class: A group protected from employment discrimination by law. These groups include men or women on the basis of sex; any group that shares a common race, religion, color, or national origin; people over 40; and people with physical or intellectual disabilities. Every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class and is entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, the EEO laws were originally passed to correct a history of unfavorable treatment of women, minority group members, and people with disabilities.

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Quota: Fixed hiring and promotion rates based on race, sex, or other protected class standards which must be met at all costs. In extreme cases, the courts have assigned quotas to some employers who have continued to practice illegal discrimination. An agency or any other employer cannot use quotas to meet their affirmative action/employment goals unless a court orders it.

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Race: Personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).

Racial or Ethnic Group:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as "Haitian" can be used in addition to "Black or African American."
  • Hispanic or Latino. A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

RCLF: Relevant Civilian Labor Force, reflects all the people in America employed in or actively seeking work in the specific occupations employed by VA (as opposed to the total CLF, which shows all workers). VA’s RCLF uses the number of people in each job series to calculate the correct ratio to use for that job series, and combines all job series for a total RCLF for VA or its components.

Reasonable Accommodation: A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. The accommodation must be effective in meeting the needs of the individual by addressing the barrier created by the functional limitations caused by the disability. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, requires all Federal agencies to make accommodation is available to applicants and employees with known disabilities, regardless of whether they work full-time, part-time or are considered “probationary.” Generally, the individual with a disability must request a change, related to a disability or medical condition. For additional information, see

Religious Accommodation: Any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to comply with his or her religious beliefs. Accommodation requests often relate to work schedules, dress and grooming, or religious expression or practice while at work. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( Title VII requires an employer, once on notice that a religious accommodation is needed, to reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Under Title VII, the undue hardship defense to providing religious accommodation requires a showing that the proposed accommodation in a particular case poses a “more than de minimis” cost or burden. Note that this is a lower standard for an employer to meet than undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is defined in that statute as “significant difficulty or expense.” ( .

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SES: Senior Executive Service, which is a separate personnel system covering a majority of the top managerial supervisory, and policy-making positions in the Executive Branch of Government.

Sex: Referring to particular gender; male or female. Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex. Sex discrimination also can involve treating someone less favorably because of his or her connection with an organization or group that is generally associated with people of a certain sex. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( ).

Sexual Harassment is a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Sexual Orientation: Homosexuality, bisexuality, or heterosexuality, whether such orientation is actual or perceived, and includes association with another individual of a particular sexual orientation. Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

Sexual Orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and relational attraction to another person; may be a same-sex orientation, opposite-sex orientation or a bisexual orientation.

SMSA: Standard Metropolitan statistical Area.

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Targeted Disability: Agencies are instructed by EEOC to set hiring goals and report progress in their employment of people with targeted disabilities (deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, epilepsy, severe intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and dwarfism). The data, by agency, is reported annually to Congress.

Transgender: Transgender individuals are people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth. Someone who was assigned the male sex at birth but who identifies as female is a transgender woman. Likewise, a person assigned the female sex at birth but who identifies as male is a transgender man. Some individuals who would fit this definition of transgender do not identify themselves as such, and identify simply as men and women, consistent with their gender identity. Source: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (

Transgender: A term describing a broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender differently from what most people expect. It is an umbrella term that includes people who are transsexual, cross-dressers or otherwise gender non-conforming.

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Underrepresentation: A term that is no longer used. See Participation Rate.

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VSSC: VHA Service Support Center, an intranet site maintained by VHA, provides numerous automated reports of personnel data.

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Workforce Diversity: A school of thought that focuses on the differences and similarities that people bring to an organization. It is usually defined broadly to include dimensions beyond those specified legally in equal opportunity and affirmative action non-discrimination statutes. Diversity is often interpreted to include dimensions that influence the identities and perspectives that people bring, such as profession, education, parental status, Veteran status, and geographic location. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experiences. Embracing workforce diversity heightens the ability of an agency to respect differences and reap the rewards of employing a workforce comprised of people with different viewpoints.

Workforce Profile: An organizational "snap shot" illustrating the dispersion of race, ethnicity, gender, and/or disability groups for the total workforce or within specified employment, pay, award, and other categories.

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