Overview: The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that is is responsible for enforcing federal laws regarding employee discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
It handles complaints by employees and applicants based on an individual's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information. Similarly, in most states there is a fair employment agency that functions in much the same manner.
Generally, an individual claiming discrimination under federal law may not directly file a lawsuit in court, but rather, the individual must first exhaust his or her administrative remedies and file a charge with the EEOC or an applicable state fair employment agency.
The EEOC investigates employment discrimination claims and also provides mediation services in order to effectuate a settlement. If a settlement is not possible, the EEOC will file a lawsuit in federal court to protect the rights of the individuals involved as well as the public interest in eliminating employment discrimination. The EEOC also provides leadership and guidance on all federal employment discrimination laws.
Trends: Employers should be aware that the EEOC has identified the following as some its priorities in the 2013 to 2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): targeting discriminatory recruiting and hiring practices; protecting immigrant and migrant workers; enforcing equal pay laws; expanding efforts to combat harassment; and enabling individuals to exercise their rights under employment discrimination laws.
Building on this, the EEOC updated its SEP for 2017-2021 and in addition to the previously identified issues, the EEOC stated that it will further focus on the following: issues related to complex employment relationships (temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, gig economy); backlash against Muslim and Middle Eastern workers; lack of diversity in the technology industry; the use of data driven screening tools with regard to barriers in recruiting and hiring; inflexible leave policies, pay disparities among protected groups; and questionable waivers, releases, and arbitration agreements.
Employers should also note that the EEOC has broad powers to subpoena employee records and information during the course of an investigation which may include names, contact information, social security numbers and reasons for employee terminations. The EEOC is generally entitled to such information so long as it is relevant or related to a charge of discrimination or harassment.
Author: Beth P Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
Illinois employers covered by the Illinois Human Rights Act and seeking to advise employees of their right to seek accommodations based on religion should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.
Updated to include information regarding changes to revised EEO-1 Report.
A federal court has found EEOC rules allowing employers to increase healthcare insurance premiums of employees who do not participate in wellness programs to be arbitrary, and sent them back to the agency for reconsideration.
A US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation uncovered reasonable cause to believe that female and African-American employees at two Ford plants in the Chicago area had been subjected to sexual and racial harassment, and that the company retaliated against employees who complained about it.
The nomination of Daniel Gade to the EEOC would, if confirmed, put a Republican majority on the commission and mark a shift to more conservative positions.
Commissioner Jenny R. Yang delivered remarks confirming that the agency's mission continues on despite a shift in priorities by the Trump administration and changing commission appointments.
The McLane Co., Inc., v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision aligns the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' standard of review for EEOC subpoenas with that of the other circuits.
Updated statement to clarify that state law prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of disabilities due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
HR guidance on understanding the powers and responsibilities of the EEOC.