Enforcing Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws: 2017-2021

As a small business it’s hard to know what federal regulation applies to you and how to comply, we are here to help.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws against discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC has issued an updated Strategic Enforcement Plan For Fiscal Years 2017-2021, which will influence the EEOC’s approach across employers, including small businesses. The plan articulates new EEOC priorities, including eliminating pay discrepancies between men and women and focusing on discrimination against employees who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. As small businesses develop employment strategies, they should be cognizant of the EEOC’s increased focus on eliminating certain types of employer discrimination and the enforcement procedures for doing so.

Employers with one or more employees are subject to a federal law that requires equal pay for men and women performing the same work in the same workplace. Employers with fifteen or more employees are subject to additional federal laws against racial discrimination, including discrimination in the form of employment opportunities, pay or harassment in the workplace.

While the EEOC’s plan doesn’t specify a specific course of action, the updated EEOC priorities could mean that the EEOC will investigate complaints alleging certain kinds of discrimination with more frequency, and so businesses should be familiar with EEOC enforcement procedures. The EEOC generally receives charges of employment discrimination brought by employees against employers. It can also evaluate charges through its Private Sector Mediation Program if the employer and employee directly agree to mediation.

If the EEOC pursues a charge of discrimination, an EEOC investigator will ask employers to respond to allegations and provide documentation. Employers may provide written answers, but the EEOC can also conduct document reviews and interviews. After investigating the charge and determining that it is rational to believe that discrimination has occurred, the employer and employee can begin conciliation discussions through EEOC mediation. The objective of mediation is to eliminate the discrimination and provide relief to the person making the complaint. In cases where the employee is financially compensated, the maximum amount of damages that small businesses will be expected to pay is fifty thousand dollars.

The EEOC has the discretion to pursue litigation if it determines that a violation has occurred and conciliation is ineffective. It will weigh the potential effect of the lawsuit on discrimination by other employers and the nature of the discrimination in making its determination.

Rimal Kacem