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New EEOC SEP adds priorities for 21st century workplace, backlash from overseas events

October 21st, 2016  |  Pamela Wolf

The EEOC announced that it has approved an updated Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for Fiscal Years 2017-2021, reaffirming the agency’s commitment to efforts that have strategic impact in advancing equal opportunity in America’s workplaces. The updated SEP generally continues the Commission’s focus on priority areas identified earlier with some modification. The updated plan adds two more priority areas related to the 21st century workplace and backlash against individuals with certain religious and ethnic backgrounds, the EEOC noted in a press release.

Substantive are priorities continued but modified. The EEOC generally continues the substantive area priorities identified in its FY 2012-2016 SEP, which are: Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring; Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Including Immigrant and Migrant Workers and Underserved Communities from Discrimination; Addressing Selected Emerging and Developing Issues; Ensuring Equal Pay Protections for All Workers; Preserving Access to the Legal System; and Preventing Systemic Harassment.

In the updated SEP, however, the EEOC makes several modifications:

  • The priority on Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers is revised to have district offices and the federal sector program identify vulnerable workers and underserved communities within their areas for focused attention. This provides additional support to the development or strengthening of significant partnerships with these groups, which is Performance Measure 8 in the Commission’s FY 2012-2016 SEP.
  • Under the Emerging and Developing Issues priority, the Commission narrows the issues under the ADA that fall within the category to qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities.
  • Under the Emerging and Developing Issues priority, the Commission adds two areas: (1) A new priority to address issues related to complex employment relationships and structures in the 21st century workplace, focusing specifically on temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, and the on-demand economy; and (2) A focus on backlash discrimination against those who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups, as tragic events in the United States and abroad have increased the likelihood of discrimination against these communities.
  • A continuing focus on gender-based pay discrimination but in addition, in recognition of the pay disparities that persist based on race, ethnicity, and for individuals with disabilities and other protected groups, the Commission extends its equal pay priority to explicitly reach all workers.
  • Removal of the term “retaliatory actions” from the access to the legal system priority, because the term was undefined and resulted in inconsistent application. This priority is refined to focus on significant retaliatory practices that effectively dissuade others in the workplace from exercising their rights, as well as to focus on retaliatory policies.

Coordinating and leveraging resources. The Commission noted that the SEP also emphasizes coordinated strategies across the EEOC to leverage the agency’s resources and promote good government. An integrated approach promotes broad sharing and consideration of ideas, strategies, and promising practices and furthers collaboration and coordination throughout the agency.

“This SEP builds on the EEOC’s progress in addressing persistent and developing issues by sharpening the agency’s areas of focus and updating the plan to recognize additional areas of emerging concern,” remarked EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. “The solid foundation laid by the Commission’s first SEP positions the EEOC to concentrate on coordinating strategies and solutions for these core areas to ensure freedom from workplace discrimination.”