As a human resources professional, you have undoubtedly heard of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Hopefully, your relationship with them has been amicable to this point and you are primarily familiar with their efforts to educate us all regarding the laws related to equal employment opportunities and what constitutes violations of these laws in regard to discrimination.
If you are not aware of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), it is not surprising since a number of HR professional’s are not familiar with it. This plan was developed in response to the Commission’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016. Under the plan, Special Enforcement Teams (SET) will be developed and they will be responsible for establishing and implementing Priority Charge Handling Procedures, or PCHPs.
If you find all these initials and acronyms a bit confusing, rest assured you are not alone. In this article I will attempt to unravel what all this means to you in your role as an HR practitioner. The good news is that practitioners who have ensured their agency has already applied existing laws and guidelines in the way they have designed work systems and are doing what they can to conform to the anti-discrimination laws in the way they do business should be a step ahead. It is also important to note that this article is not intended to be a legal analysis of the SEP, but rather an overview of what it says without getting bogged down in the jargon, redundancy or generality of the document.
First it is valuable to begin with some background. The Commission is intended to be a bipartisan body consisting of five members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The President is also responsible for designating one member as chair of the Commission, who is responsible for administrative operations such as hiring personnel. The EEOC is intended to be the governmental enforcer for anti-discrimination laws in employment, as well as the lead promoter for equal employment opportunity. The laws the Commission is responsible for enforcing include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA),
- Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
- Titles I and V of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and
- Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).
This listing should demonstrate to you the breadth of their enforcement powers as well as the responsibility public sector Human Resources shops have in abiding by these laws and the potential liability of failing to prevent employment practices that discriminate on an illegal basis. In responding to this tremendous responsibility, it is important that practitioners in the field of human resources take the time to become familiar with the basics of these laws. The laws as well as summations of them and legal interpretations are available online and it is beneficial for those involved in conducting HR activities to know what practices are prohibited and which ones are permissible. Since we live in a highly litigious society, it is beneficial to know what can constitute a liability and what does not, just to feel comfortable performing routine activities in HR.
Taking the laws listed above as a whole and putting them in more practical terms, it can be said that the intention of these laws is to protect individuals from employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. In the SEP, the framers also emphasized that these laws make it illegal to retaliate against a person for opposing employment discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination, or participating in an investigation or lawsuit regarding employment discrimination.
Continuing on with background, it is important to know that the EEOC has jurisdiction over three sectors: the private, state and local government, and the federal government. Congress has empowered the EEOC to “prevent any person from engaging in any unlawful employment practice,” 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(a). The General Counsel and legal staff has the authority to enforce the ADEA and EPA in regard to state and local government. However, before getting the idea that state and local governments are only responsible for conforming to these two laws, it is important to know that the Department of Justice has authority to bring litigation against state and local governments in Title VII, ADA and GINA cases.
The Commission has indicated that their vision is to ensure “justice and equality in the workplace.” In their strategic plan that covers the federal government’s Fiscal Years for 2012-2016 they outlined three major objectives. They intend to:
- Combat employment discrimination through strategic law enforcement;
- Prevent employment discrimination through education and outreach;
- Deliver excellent and consistent service through a skilled and diverse workforce and effective systems.
In the next article, we will get into the details of how the Commission intends to achieve the objectives of their Strategic Enforcement Plan.