The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently approved a new strategic plan for 2012-2016, which is designed to maximize its resources.

The new strategic plan contains two aspects that are of particular interest to HR professionals:

(1)    the EEOC will focus its efforts on systemic discrimination cases rather than individual discrimination cases; and

(2)    the EEOC will focus its education and outreach efforts on small and new businesses.

Systematic Discrimination Cases

In recent years, the EEOC has filed increased numbers of systematic discrimination cases.  The new EEOC strategic plan has made this trend part of the EEOC’s official enforcement policy.

Systematic discrimination cases are those that involve a pattern or practice of discrimination.  These cases are frequently class cases that involve many plaintiffs, and accordingly, systematic discrimination cases generally present a higher potential liability to the employer.  Moreover, systematic discrimination cases—as opposed to individual discrimination cases—are generally more complicated and, as a result, more expensive to defend in litigation.

Examples of systematic discrimination cases include cases wherein the EEOC alleges that:

  • the employer set up discriminatory barriers to recruitment and hiring;
  • the employer discriminatorily restricted access to management trainee programs and/or high level jobs;
  • the employer excluded women from traditionally male-dominated fields of work;
  • the employer complies with customer preferences in such a way that results in discriminatory placements or assignments.

The EEOC’s new strategic plan means that fewer enforcement actions overall are likely to be brought over the next four years, but those enforcement actions that are brought are likely to be large, complicated systematic discrimination enforcement actions.

Small Business Education and Outreach

The EEOC’s new strategic plan also calls for it to increase its education and outreach efforts, particularly towards small and new businesses.  The EEOC plans to focus on these businesses because they are often less able to take advantage of the EEOC’s training programs, and they are less likely to have in-house professionals who can assist them with compliance.

Of course, this greater focus on small and new businesses also likely means that these businesses may be facing greater scrutiny from the EEOC.

One thing is clear—now is the time for businesses to review their compliance programs.  If you are thinking about the EEOC only after it has come knocking, you are already too late.