Employers should brace for increased enforcement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after it received a budget boost and has a new board member, breaking a deadlock that’s been going on for nearly a year.
Here’s the latest EEOC news that’s pointing to more robust enforcement by the agency:
- In the federal government’s fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 143 lawsuits were filed against employers for alleged discrimination against employees, 52% more than in 2022. All but three of them were filed in the last eight months of the year, indicating a rapid increase that’s spilling over into the current fiscal year.
- The EEOC’s budget for 2024 increased $26 million, or 6%, from 2023.
- The composition of the five-member EEOC changed in July, when a new commission member was finally confirmed after a year-long wait, giving Democrat-appointed members a majority. The commission had been deadlocked up until that point with two Republican-appointed members and two Democrat appointments.
These developments indicate that the EEOC will step up its enforcement of federal employment laws. Accordingly, employers should be extra-vigilant in preventing acts or conditions in the workplace that might appear to break the law.
The EEOC is a federal agency charged with enforcing federal laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees on several grounds. These include race, sex, color, religion, age and disability, among others.
In recent years, the number of lawsuits it filed has shrunk. During some years of the Obama administration, it filed more than 300 suits annually. That number fell to 97 in 2020 and was 124 in 2021.
An EEOC investigation can have several effects on an employer:
- Time that would have been spent running the business must be dedicated to responding to the charges. Work activities are disrupted as the EEOC requests documents and interviews staff members.
- Employee morale can tumble when staff find out the government is investigating alleged discriminatory practices.
- It can tie up the employer for a very long time. The EEOC says most investigations take 10 months or so, but experts say that is an underestimate.
How to prevent an EEOC investigation
The best thing an employer can do is to avoid giving workers any reason to believe they’ve been victims of discrimination. You can do this by:
- Establishing a strong and clear written anti-discrimination policy. It should expressly state that discrimination against any of the protected classes of employees is illegal and intolerable. You should include it in your employee handbook and communicate it often to workers. A good policy will include easy to understand examples of prohibited conduct.
- Establishing an anti-retaliation policy. It should make clear that employees who complain of illegal discrimination against themselves or colleagues will not be retaliated against. EEOC statistics showed that most of the complaints it received in 2020 were for retaliation.
- Training managers and other employees on compliance with applicable laws.
- Developing and following a consistent process for addressing complaints.
- Promptly investigating all complaints of discrimination and taking actions, if necessary.
- Thoroughly documenting all steps in the investigation and retaining the records for future reference.
- Using progressive discipline with violators, with the severity of the consequences increasing for each subsequent violation.
Every employer should carry employment practices liability insurance. This coverage protects the business against claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and other wrongful workplace acts.
However, there can be great differences between policies, so it’s important that you work with us to find a policy that is right for your organization.
The EEOC is clearly taking employee discrimination claims more seriously. That makes it all the more important that your organization does the same.