The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect employees and job applicants against employment discrimination when it involves:
- Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
- Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace, because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
- Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that the employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability.
- Retaliation because the employee complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
The EEOC reports receiving about 90,000 new complaints each year. To handle these complaints, the EEOC created the Action Council for Transformation to a Digital Charge System (ACT Digital) to develop a set of online applications for use by the public.
11 of the 53 EEOC offices are currently using the pilot program to transmit documents electronically between the EEOC and employers regarding discrimination charges. The offices participating in Phase I of the digital charge system are Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, Norfolk, Raleigh, Richmond and San Francisco, followed by Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Phoenix. The EEOC has stated that the goal is to have the ACT Digital System rolled out to all 53 EEOC offices by October 2015.
Why is the EEOC going digital?
The EEOC lists the following Key Benefits to the Public and to the EEOC of a Digital Charge System:
- Increases responsiveness to our customers by allowing them to upload and download documents, to communicate online with EEOC, and to provide more detailed info available thru online resources and links to eeoc.gov;
- Streamlines the enforcement system with dates triggering messages, reminders and action steps;
- Saves resources, including staff time, paper and money using digital documents and communications rather than copying, mailing, phone calls;
- Provides improvement management of workflow, and increased accountability and coordination;
- Protects integrity, security, and storage of documents in online system.
What will employers be able to do using the new Digital Charge System?
Employers will be able to interact online with the EEOC via a Respondent Portal. When an employee has filed a charge, the respondent for the company will be notified via email that a charge has been filed. The employer then has an opportunity to respond to the charge electronically. An employer will be able to:
- View and download the charge;
- Review an invitation to mediate and respond to it;
- Submit a Position Statement to EEOC; and
- Provide/verify respondent contact information, including the designation of a legal representative.
During the first phase of the Digital Charge System, only employers will be able to communicate electronically with the EEOC – there is still not an option for employees/charging parties to communicate electronically at this time.
How will we be notified when a charge is filed against our company?
The EEOC will send an electronic notification via email to a representative of the company. The email address may be obtained from the charging party (employee) or through previous communications between the company and the EEOC. At this time the EEOC does not allow users to create and maintain individual user accounts. If a notice is sent via email, a hard copy will NOT be mailed to the employer.
This could create issues for employers. If a charging party lists a supervisor as the employer representative, that supervisor must notify the HR department or a senior manager immediately of the notification. This could mean that a supervisor or manager receives a charge notice for an employee who is not in their department or location. For this reason, it’s very important that you talk to all of your supervisors and managers to notify them of the potential email they may receive from the EEOC so that it is handled appropriately.
The system will generate a notice to EEOC staff 10 days after the date the original notice was sent via email if no action has been taken, meaning the responding employer has not logged into the system. A representative from the local EEOC office will attempt to send the notice of charge again. For this reason, it’s important that supervisors and managers are aware that they should NOT log into the system and should forward the notification email to the appropriate representative of your company who handles EEOC charges.
If an email address is not available for a representative of the company, the EEOC will mail a paper copy of the notice of charge as well as instructions for the employer to log into the secure portal using a specific charge number and a system generated password.
Do we have to use the electronic system or can we opt out?
As of right now, use of the electronic ACT Digital is not required during the pilot period. However, the EEOC encourages the use of the digital system as it provides faster access and submission of documents, as well as notifications to the EEOC staff to improve communication with the EEOC.
As a take away, make sure you discuss with your supervisors and managers the importance of forwarding on any notice of charge emails from the EEOC to Human Resources, your legal department, or the representative from your company who handles EEOC charges.