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: In its most recent Strategic Enforcement Plan, the EEOC stated that it will focus on remedying disparate pay and discriminatory language policies especially as applied to immigrant, migrant and vulnerable workers. It will further attempt to eliminate systemic barriers to recruiting and hiring legally protected classes, including barriers in preemployment screening and exclusionary practices. It also emphasized that it will continue to apply sex discrimination provisions to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals as well as provide protection and accommodations to pregnant women and individuals with disabilities under the ADA Amendments Act. The EEOC will also reevaluate strategies to be more effective in preventing and responding to harassment in the workplace and increasing education and outreach efforts to employees and employers. Further, employers should be aware that the EEOC is aggressively pursuing employers who use severance and settlement agreements that unlawfully deter employees from filing claims of discrimination or harassment and participating in EEOC investigations.
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
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.
Updated to include the final rule on wellness programs under the ADA and GINA, effective January 1, 2017; and EEOC guidance on national origin discrimination and mental health under the ADA.
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The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released for public input a proposed enforcement guidance addressing unlawful harassment under federal employment discrimination laws. Employers and other stakeholders may submit comments until February 9, 2017.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of their business.
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HR guidance on understanding the powers and responsibilities of the EEOC.