TalentWave Blog

    EEOC Enforcement Priorities Now Include Worker Misclassification

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    The EEOC recently announced its updated strategic enforcement plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2021. The updated plan contains the organization’s priorities and strategies for enforcing laws and regulations on equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination in the workplace.

    In making the announcement, the EEOC reaffirmed six priorities identified in its previous strategic plan, released in 2012:

    • Eliminating barriers in recruiting and hiring, including diversity in technology and the increasing use of data-driven screening tools;
    • 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.

    EEOC Places New Focus on Worker Misclassification

    Of significant note for enterprise clients who engage independent workers, the EEOC refined their priorities to “recognize additional areas of emerging concern.” Most notably, the EEOC has called out  additional areas of focus:

    • Issues related to “complex employment relationships in the 21st century workplace”
    • Backlash discrimination against those who are Muslims or Sikh, or individuals of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent, and persons perceived to be members of these groups.

    While it is somewhat vague, there is little doubt that the EEOC is referring to the growing independent workforce and the so-called “gig economy” when it references “complex employment relationships in the 21st century workplace.”

    The EEOC says it intends to focus on clarifying the employment relationship, and will study how to apply workplace protections against discrimination to temporary workers, staffing agencies, and independent contractor relationships in the on-demand economy.

    When asked for his legal perspective on this announcement, Rob Cruz, Legal and Compliance Counsel for TalentWave said, “The EEOC is chartered with enforcing federal laws related to discrimination. This new initiative signals a plan to expand its investigative territory. It’s easy to envision the EEOC focusing more of their efforts on the emerging gig economy, where the media continues to widely report on perceived inequalities impacting gig workers. That said, even among established or highly-compensated IC populations, this new initiative gives the EEOC the wherewithal to carry out investigations and enforce federal laws anywhere it reasonably suspects there may discrimination of contingent labor by client companies.”

    There are many industries that have found great benefits from engaging independent workers. Classifying workers as independent contractors is a perfectly legitimate worker classification, so long as the work and project support it. Making this classification decision is not easy, which is why a company like TalentWave exists.

    Image Attribution:
    Wikipedia“, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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