As part of its current Strategic Plan, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aims to raise awareness of employment discrimination laws and ensure that individuals know their corresponding rights and responsibilities. Meanwhile, the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2024-2028 (SEP) prioritizes protecting vulnerable workers from employment discrimination.
On Monday, the EEOC announced a new outreach initiative to further those efforts.
According to the EEOC press release, the REACH initiative will:
- Hold in-person and virtual listening sessions with a broad range of stakeholders in different areas around the country to examine how the EEOC can bolster its efforts to reach vulnerable and underserved communities by identifying existing barriers to reporting discrimination and soliciting recommendations on how to serve these populations better.
- Review and evaluate existing research and recommendations on effective outreach strategies, tools, and methods to inform the work of the initiative.
- Identify best practices for reaching vulnerable and underserved communities and consider how to develop an increased presence in rural areas and areas far from physical EEOC office locations.
- Develop recommendations to present to the EEOC Chair for enhancing outreach efforts.
Individuals who wish to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC can do so online without visiting a physical office location. However, the REACH initiative is seemingly about making these individuals in remote areas aware of these EEOC’s processes and other resources.
The press release does not specify the group(s) of vulnerable workers on which the REACH initiative will focus. However, it cross-references the Strategic Enforcement Plan, which identifies vulnerable workers as immigrant and migrant workers and workers on temporary visas; people with developmental or intellectual disabilities; workers with mental health-related disabilities; individuals with arrest or conviction records; LGBTQI+ individuals; temporary workers; older workers; individuals employed in low wage jobs, including teenage workers employed in such jobs; survivors of gender-based violence; Native Americans/Alaska Natives; and persons with limited literacy or English proficiency.
What does all of this mean for employers?
The REACH initiative, as an employee-focused outreach, won’t have much direct impact on businesses. But even if the outreach effort does not result in more individuals filing discrimination charges, depending on the nature of the underlying claim, the EEOC can seek to investigate individual discrimination or, more often, company-wide, class-based, or systemic discrimination.
Therefore, the REACH initiative is a wake-up call for employers to rekindle their compliance efforts to protect all employees from discrimination and fear of retaliation, which often chills vulnerable workers from speaking up for themselves and others about perceived discrimination at work.