It is now easier for current and former employees to sue you for discrimination. On November 1, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched a new online tool intended to make it easier for employees to initiate employment discrimination claims against their employers. The best way for employers to guard against claims is to ensure that their employment policies comply with applicable legal requirements but let’s face it, there will always be employees who have an axe to grind or those looking for a cash windfall in the form of a settlement.
The EEOC Public Portal allows individuals to obtain EEOC services, file charges against employers and monitor their claims through the internet. This includes any claims filed pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. While most of the EEOC-enforced laws apply only to employers with 15, 20 or more employees, virtually all employers are subject to at least one of the laws, such as the Equal Pay Act.
The new system does not permit individuals to file charges of discrimination online that have not been prepared by the EEOC or to file complaints of discrimination against federal agencies. While the new system doesn’t permit an individual to immediately file a charge of discrimination, it will allow individuals to digitally sign and file a charge prepared by the EEOC for them after the intake process is complete. After the complaint has been filed, the charging party can use the EEOC Public Portal (Portal) to provide and update contact information, agree to mediate the charge, upload documents to the charge file, receive documents and messages related to the charge from the agency and check on the status of the charge. Individuals are not required to use the Portal for charge-filing purposes and may still file charges against an employer by mail or at an EEOC field office.
Under most of the federal laws enforced by the EEOC, an individual who believes an employer has engaged in unlawful employment discrimination cannot file a lawsuit in court against the employer unless he or she has filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and received a Notice of Right to Sue letter.
In addition to facilitating online inquiries and the Portal attributes already discussed here, the Portal allows users to:
- Engage in pre-charge interviews and counseling with EEOC agents via web cams and teleconferencing;
- Input the data required for a charge of discrimination against an employer; and
- Direct the EEOC to prepare a formal charge against an employer.
Information a user enters in the Portal is password-protected and not available for viewing by employers or the general public. Once a charge is filed against an employer, the EEOC will send a notice that directs the employer to a separate online system called the EEOC Respondent Portal. This Respondent Portal allows employers to view a filed charge, file a response, communicate with the EEOC and upload documents related to the charge. This makes it imperative that employers review and read any and all emails it may receive from the EEOC.
According to EEOC figures, during fiscal year 2017, the EEOC responded to over 550,000 calls to its toll-free number and more than 140,600 inquiries in field offices. Admittedly, this is significant demand for the EEOC’s services. Handling more of these inquiries through an online system is more efficient for the public and EEOC but it may catch some employers off guard. What won’t catch anyone off guard is the fact that there will now be an increase in lawsuits initiated by current and former employees.
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