As 2016 wound to a close, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) put forth its strategic enforcement plan for the next four years, outlining its "commitment to focus efforts on those activities likely to have strategic impact in advancing equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination in the workplace."
While these priorities may shift over the next few years, as it stands, the EEOC is currently focused on six problem areas.
The leading priority as outlined under the new rules is to focus on businesses with discriminatory hiring practices that target a candidate's race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender or disability.
Among these efforts, the EEOC will also be examining the various systems and analytics tools used during recruiting processes that might prove exclusionary or limit a candidate's application for specific jobs due to their inclusion in a particular class, such as online application systems that are inaccessible to people with disabilities or background checks that disproportionally impact African Americans and Latinos.
Evaluate your existing hiring policies for any potentially discriminatory practices. If your organization employs data analytics tools to limit candidate pools, revisit the qualifiers you are using to identify viable recruits.
Immigrant and migrant workers are frequently exploited due to their heightened risk factors -- English language deficiencies, financial circumstances, lack of work experience. In addition, these workers are often unaware of their legal employment rights or are reluctant to exercise them for fear of reprisal.
The EEOC intends to focus on policies that disproportionately affect these vulnerable workers.
If your business employs immigrant, migrant, or other underserved workers, examine how these employees are currently being treated.
As part of its responsibilities, the EEOC actively monitors emerging workplace trends, attempting to identify and address labor issues before they become larger problems. Those trends currently being watched are:
Consider more flexible workplace policies that can better accommodate the varying needs of your staff. If possible, offer the ability to work from home or adjust the hours they spend in the office so that your employees can go to medical appointments during the day.
The EEOC will continue its efforts to prosecute violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and other federal guidelines, which prohibit pay discrimination on the basis of an employee's sex, race, religion, ethnicity, age, or disability.
Remove the responsibility for hiring, promotion, and similar staffing decisions from single individuals whose unconscious biases may skew decisions, and instead use a team to evaluate candidates.
The EEOC will also target corporate policies and activities that undermine an employee's individual rights or that impede EEOC investigations and enforcement efforts, including:
Review your existing workforce grievance and resolution policies along with existing arbitration agreements, making sure that these comply with current law. Verify that your document retention and storage policies are adequate and are being followed.
Considering that over 30 percent of the charges filed with the EEOC include allegations of harassment, it should be no surprise that harassment cases will continue to be a priority in 2017.
Alongside its campaign of aggressive enforcement, including monetary relief for victims, the EEOC hopes to promote concerted prevention programs centered around training and outreach efforts, ideally deterring future violations.
Provide anti-discrimination and harassment training to all of your staff. By setting a clear tone at the top of your organization regarding what is and is not appropriate behavior, you can create a culture of tolerance and inclusivity that will extend even to your hiring practices.
While the EEOC may be adjusting its focus for these upcoming years, by being proactive and diligent, you can prevent your business from popping up on their radar -- and create a healthier, more equitable environment for your employees to your work in.
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