Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for Fiscal Years 2024-2028. The SEP outlines the EEOC’s specific subject matter priorities for preventing workplace discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
The SEP was a collaborative and bipartisan effort by working groups comprised of various EEOC staff members across the agency. According to the EEOC, the need for the SEP was driven by the public’s call for justice and equity in the workplace. To that end, the EEOC obtained significant public input by hosting three public listening sessions where it heard from witnesses representing workers’ rights organizations, unions, employers, human resources departments, scholars, and attorneys. The draft SEP was also posted in the Federal Register for notice and comment.
After the comment period ended, the SEP was refined to include the following key priorities:
- Targeting discrimination, bias, and hate directed against religious minorities, racial or ethnic groups, and LGBTQI+ individuals in recruitment and hiring;
- Expanding the vulnerable and underserved worker priority;
- Updating the emerging and developing issues priority to include protecting workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; employment discrimination associated with the long-term effects of COVID-19; and technology-related employment discrimination;
- Highlighting underrepresentation of women and workers of color in certain industries and sectors;
- Recognizing employers’ increasing use of technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning; and
- Preserving access to the legal system by addressing overly broad waivers, releases, non-disclosure agreements, or non-disparagement agreements when they restrict workers’ ability to obtain remedies for civil rights violations.
The EEOC’s Executive Summary covering the new SEP specifically acknowledged it was designed to address the “broader fight for justice and equality,” and it suggests the EEOC will take an aggressive pursuit of its enforcement agenda. In other words, the EEOC has put employers and employees alike on notice of the road-map it has planned for enforcement of federal workplace employment laws. Employers should therefore remain vigilant and up-to-date on the SEP’s enumerated priorities that will undoubtedly receive increased attention. It is also safe to say that employers can also expect to see the EEOC’s willingness to litigate these issues increase. All of which means that now, more than ever, employers and their executive management and human resources teams need to be working together, and with their legal counsel of choice, to be proactive and prepared for the EEOC’s priority list.