The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its updated Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2017-2021. This plan identifies and describes the areas that will be a priority focus for the EEOC’s enforcement efforts over the next 4 years.
In the updated plan, the EEOC has identified the following six national priority areas for enforcement:
(1) Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring. Here, the EEOC will focus on class-based recruitment and hiring practices including that discriminate against racial, ethnic, and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities. These practices include exclusionary policies and practices, the channeling/steering of individuals into specific jobs due to their status in a particular group, job segregation, restrictive application processes (including online systems that are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities), and screening tools that disproportionately impact workers based on their protected status (e.g., pre-employment tests, background checks, date-of-birth inquiries, and medical questionnaires).
(2) Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Including Immigrant and Migrant Workers, and Underserved Communities from Discrimination. Here, the EEOC will focus on job segregation, harassment, trafficking, pay, retaliation and other policies and practices against vulnerable workers (workers who are likely unaware of their rights under the equal employment laws, or reluctant or unable to exercise them).
(3) Addressing Selected Emerging and Developing Issues. Here the EEOC will monito trends and developments in the law, workplace practices, and labor force demographics relating to the following issues — qualification or leave policies that discriminate on the basis of disability; accommodations for disabilities and pregnant workers; protecting LGBT employees from sex discrimination; addressing discrimination laws in the context of evolving job market structures/relationships (for example, temps, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, the on-demand or “gig” economy, etc.); and “backlash discrimination” against Muslims, Sikhs, persons of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent (or perceived members of these groups).
(4) Ensuring Equal Pay Protections for All Workers. Here the EEOC will focus on compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on sex and any other protected basis.
(5) Preserving Access to the Legal System.
Here the EEOC will focus on policies and practices that limit substantive rights, discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or impede EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts. Specifically, EEOC will focus on: overly broad waivers, releases, and mandatory arbitration provisions, employers’ failure to maintain and retain applicant and employee data and records required by EEOC regulations, and significant retaliatory practices that effectively dissuade others in the workplace from exercising their rights.
(6) Preventing Systemic Harassment.
With harassment continuing to be one of the most frequent complaints raised in the workplace, the EEOC will seek to promote “holistic prevention programs” that it believes will serve as a deterrent to violations.
Take home for employers
With the new plan announced, it is recommended that employers review the plan and review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with federal and state anti-discrimination laws.