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Employment Practices: An Inside Look at the EEOC’s Focus for 2017-21

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in October released its new four-year Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The SEP offers employers insight into the areas on which the EEOC plans to focus in the next four years, giving companies a renewed opportunity to ensure their operations are compliant with employment practices and the various laws that govern these practices.

According to the federal agency, the latest SEP (the first SEP covered years 2012-2016) “builds on the EEOC’s progress in addressing persistent and developing issues by sharpening our areas of focus and updating the plan to recognize additional areas of emerging concern.” The hallmark of the first SEP was the EEOC’s focus on “systemic litigation,” with the new plan appearing to double down on that approach. Employers should expect continued focus on the EEOC bringing litigation in large-scale, high-profile and high-impact cases. Moreover, employers should be careful when classifying workers as independent contractors or temporary workers.

The EEOC has identified six priority areas under the new SEP:

  • Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring: The federal agency will prioritize eliminating discrimination related to recruitment and hiring, including employer policies and practices of exclusion, screening that disproportionately impacts workers in protected categories, and placing of individuals into specific jobs inappropriately based upon protected categories.
  • Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Including Immigrant and Migrant Workers and Underserved Communities, from Discrimination: The EEOC will prioritize enforcing equality for immigrant and migrant workers and persons perceived to be members of these groups as well as other underserved communities.
  • Addressing Selected Emerging and Developing Issues, Including:
    • Inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities;
    • Pregnancy-related limitations that violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Amendments Act;
    • The increasing and continued complexity of employment relationships and work structures, including those relationships involving temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractors, and the on-demand economy;
    • LGBTQ discrimination; and
    • Discriminatory practices against persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, those who are Muslim or Sikh, and persons perceived to be members of these groups.
  • Ensuring Equal Pay Protections for All Workers: The federal agency is renewing its commitment to safeguard compensation systems and ensure such practices do not discriminate against workers based on race, religion, ethnicity, sex, age, disability, or any other protected categories under the law.
  • Preserving Access to the Legal System: The EEOC will target employer policies that impede the ability of employees to pursue their workplace rights. This includes aiming its efforts at overly broad waivers or releases and mandatory arbitration provisions as well as ending practices that deter employees from exercising their legal rights. The EEOC will also focus on ensuring that employers maintain the appropriate applicant and employee data and records as required by EEOC regulations.
  • Preventing Systemic Harassment: The EEOC will renew its heightened focus on ending harassment in the workplace. Continued attention will be given to workplace policies and practices. 

As we head into a new year, it’s critical for employers to review both their employment practices and insurance program to address their work-related exposures. RPS offers Employment Practices Liability Insurance solutions to a broad spectrum of industries. Contact us to learn more about our programs.


Sources: EEOC, McLane Law Firm, Seyfarth & Shaw

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