The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is poised to approve a new five-year strategic plan, which it believes is “an opportune moment to aim for bold and transformative change.” Employers should be aware of the new enforcement priorities and methods, and proactively protect themselves in the most highly targeted areas.
The agency is taking both a “targeted” and “integrated” approach. The targeted approach directs a greater share of time and resources to priorities specified in the plan. While district offices will develop their own plans, the nationwide priorities are:
1. Eliminating systemic barriers in recruitment and hiring;
2. Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers;
3. Addressing emerging issues like: 1) ADAAA disability coverage issues, undue hardship, direct threat, and business necessity; 2) protection based on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender status as form of sex discrimination; and 3) accommodating pregnancy when women have been forced into unpaid leave after being denied accommodations routinely provided to similarly situated employees;
4. Preserving access to the legal system; and
5. Combating harassment.
Category-A precedence will be given to charges involving “systemic cases as pattern or practice, policy, and/or class cases where the alleged discrimination has a broad impact on an industry, occupation, business or geographic area.” Individual cases that do not reach the new systemic priorities may still be brought by the EEOC, subject to available resources, but will generally be tracked first into mediation, and if not resolved, referred to private attorneys.
The integrated approach ensures “the full use of communications, outreach, education, training, research, and technology as tools to advance the agency’s overall mission in concert with administrative enforcement and legal enforcement.” The most significant components for employers are: 1) encouragement of consultation between administrative investigation staff and legal enforcement staff during the initial investigation phase; 2) development of a multi-year plan for reviewing and updating sub-regulatory guidance; 3) empowerment of the EEOC Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs (OCLA) to manage the EEOC’s website; 4) increased collaboration with state fair employment practice agencies; 5) increased referral of non-priority charges to private attorneys for litigation; and 6) development of a multi-year plan to “enhance integration for research.” The last item is of interest as it may pertain to the EEOC’s ability to gain access to documents and information and possible technological updating and integration.
The EEOC’s plan means that the incentives are as high as ever for employers to proactively assess their policies, practices, and procedures to ensure they provide the maximum protection.