This week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), by a 3-1 vote, approved a Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) establishing the agency’s national enforcement priorities for fiscal years 2013-2016 and improving integration of enforcement responsibilities between field offices.  

The SEP derives from the EEOC’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016, which was approved in February 2012. According to the EEOC, the larger Strategic Plan provides a framework for preventing and remedying employment discrimination.

According to the EEOC’s press release, the SEP “promotes more strategic use of agency resources with the ultimate goal of advancing EEOC’s mission of stopping and remedying unlawful discrimination.” The SEP identifies six national priorities as the focus of this integrated enforcement effort, including:

  • eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring (targeting class-based discrimination against racial, ethnic and religious groups, and older workers, women, and people with disabilities);
  • protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers (targeting disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking, and discriminatory policies); 
  • addressing emerging and developing employment discrimination issues;
  • enforcing equal pay laws (targeting compensation discrimination based on gender);
  • preserving access to the legal system; and
  • preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach.

According to the SEP, the EEOC’s goal and expectation is that a concentrated and coordinated approach focused on these priorities will result in reduced discrimination in these areas. Further, the SEP provides that the focus of the agency’s investigations and cases should be on systemic, rather than individual, matters involving the enforcement priorities.

Since these areas will likely consume the majority of the EEOC’s enforcement efforts, employers may face increased scrutiny regarding the implementation and enforcement of workplace policies and procedures that touch on these enforcement priorities. As such, employers may consider taking the following steps, among others, in conjunction with legal counsel, to mitigate any legal risks:

  • Review hiring and recruitment practices.
  • Ensure that large immigrant or migrant groups of employees are apprised of their rights in the workplace. 
  • Review policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), including reasonable accommodation and leave request processes under the ADA.
  • Review policies for accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
  • Review policies and practices regarding treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply.
  • Review severance agreements to ensure exclusion of impermissible language, including language regarding EEOC waivers. 
  • Review record-keeping policies and practices.
  • Review sexual and other harassment policies to ensure policies are comprehensive, designed to combat workplace harassment, and demonstrate that the employer takes such issues seriously.

In addition to the top national priorities, the SEP also calls for the development of local and federal sector priorities to address particular issues prevalent in either a geographic location or within the federal sector.

The SEP also contains integration strategies that “promote good government.” The SEP directs the EEOC to pursue a coordinated approach to ensure “consistent and integrated enforcement” throughout the three sectors over which the agency has jurisdiction: private, public (state and local), and federal. The goals are greater consistency and increased efficiency throughout the EEOC’s program areas, offices and among staff.