Huge $5M EEOC settlement spotlights an enforcement priority that you may be overlooking

Blue-bullseye

In late December of 2012, the EEOC approved its Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013-2016. Sadly, one of the agency’s enforcement priorities has been ignored on this blog.

Until now.

Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers.

There are six EEOC enforcement priorities. While there is no hierarchy among the six, “protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers” is the one that seems to slip under the radar. This priority entails targeting disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under the equal employment laws, or reluctant or unable to exercise them.

Last week, the EEOC’s enforcement efforts paid off with a $5 million settlement. The EEOC had alleged in a lawsuit that a ship building and repair company recruited foreign workers, subjecting the men to “a pattern or practice of race and national origin discrimination, including unfavorable working conditions and forcing the men to pay $1,050 a month to live in overcrowded, unsanitary, guarded camps. As many as 24 men were forced to live in containers the size of a double-wide trailer, while non-Indian workers were not required to live in these camps.”

You can read more about the lawsuit and settlement in this EEOC press release.

So, why should employers care?

Obviously, if you employ immigrant and migrant workers, this is your wake-up call. And, if you do, it’s not just deplorable, physical working conditions that can get you into trouble. Earlier this month, the EEOC recovered nearly $600k for eight female former employees whom the EEOC alleged were subjected to awful sexual harassment. These workers were all recent immigrants from Mexico or Central America who did not speak English and were largely unaware of their rights.

But, the way I see it — which, is also the way I’ve heard it from the EEOC — is that “other vulnerable workers” includes, more generally, your younger workforce. For example, if you operate in retail or the fast food industry, you must have a bunch of younger millennials, who are easy targets for sexual harassment from both co-workers and supervisors.

And ’tis the season. Do you have seasonal workers for the holidays? Are you providing them with the same anti-harassment education and training that you provide you your permanent workforce? If not, it makes them, well, vulnerable.

Hopefully, you’ve taken care of training your seasonal workers. But, more generally, make a New Year’s Resolution to ensure that all of your employees — especially the immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers — are protected in 2016.

Image Credit: By Chassutt (www.accurateairmo.com) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
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