Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced new enforcement goals. If adopted, they will affect employers’ online application processes and numerous other areas of recruiting.
The EEOC, of course, has many guidelines, but it cannot focus all attention on all guidelines at all times, so the agency explains that “periodically adopts a multi-year plan, called the Strategic Enforcement Plan, or SEP, to establish substantive agency enforcement priorities to guide all aspects of its work to advance equal employment opportunity for all and prevent and remedy unlawful discrimination in employment.”
Its current Draft Strategic Enforcement Plan was announced in January, with a public commentary period that ends Feb. 9. At that point, the EEOC will decide how to move forward. If its new policies are implemented, they will go into effect for the fiscal year 2023 through 2027.
And so while the agency will continue to address many issues beyond what’s in the new SEP, it points out that “the matters set forth in the SEP will have priority in the EEOC’s work.”
An Expanded Definition of Vulnerable and Underserved Workers
The new SEP specifically aims to expands the “vulnerable and underserved” worker definition to include:
- Workers who may be unaware of their rights
- Workers who may be reluctant or unable to exercise their legally protected right
- Workers who have been “underserved by federal employment discrimination protections, including:
- People with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- People with arrest or conviction records
- LGBTQI+ individuals
- Temporary workers
- Older workers
- People in low-wage jobs
- People with limited English proficiency
With those things in mind, the mission of the EEOC to eliminate systemic barriers to employment would now include even more of those barriers. As Marie Lobbezoo, director of human resources at Loss Prevention Services (LPS), says, “Low-income applicants may not have access to the Internet to apply for jobs online. There’s also potential for disparate impact on persons of color, who tend to be in the lower income bracket. And many online job applications do not interact with adaptive technologies used by people with disabilities.”
Lobbezzoo adds that many online job applications only allow for binary selections for gender, which is a barrier to non-binary applicants. For example, if you last updated your drop-down options for sex on your application 10 years ago, choices are probably limited to “male, female, and prefer not to answer.” However, that may no longer satisfy EEOC guidelines.
Meanwhile, Robyn J. Grable, CEO of Talents ASCEND, points out that for many people with disabilities, the application process can be almost impossible. Grable says: “The application process is daunting for most people. Add in a neurological, cognitive, or physical need, and staring at an application seems like crossing barbed wire. Everyone is well aware of the filters present in the application process — previous industry experience, education, etc. And those filters miss out on millions of talented candidates with skills. No one wants to start off feeling limited or degraded. Unfortunately, that’s what application processes leave the disability community to deal with.”
These are the types of issues the EEOC now aims to scrutinize, essentially by asking an overarching question: Can everyone apply for your jobs? If not, why?
Consequently, you’ll need to ask yourself questions like:
- Do you post jobs that don’t require a high proficiency in English?
- Do you throw resumes that arrive in the mail in the trash
- Are you refusing to hire people with a series of temp jobs
- Can people fill out applications on their phones, or is your website optimized only for desktops?
If you look at these problems as ways to increase your applicants in general and make it easier for vulnerable and underrepresented people to apply, you won’t be wrong. The application process at many organizations is often tedious and frustrating.
For instance, 13% of adults with household incomes under $30,000 have no internet access at home, no computer, no smartphone. Having a kiosk in your store or lobby that enables job seekers to submit applications, or accepting paper applications, would go a long way toward helping these low-income people apply.
An Expanded Definition of Recruiting
Under the new SEP, recruitment is more than just external hiring “to include limiting access to on-the-job training, pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship programs, temp-to-hire positions, internships, or other job training or advancement opportunities based on protected status.”
This will force companies to ask themselves: How are your apprenticeship programs? Are you recruiting from the high-dollar, low-diversity schools? What about on-the-job training? Have you relied on your temp agency to ensure low barriers to application and haven’t looked at how they operate?
And since job advancement opportunities will be something the EEOC plans to look at, organizations will also likely need to examine their succession plans and not just external candidates.
Overall, the agency’s new SEP suggests a strong need for employers to audit their hiring processes to ensure compliance and reduce barriers to application for vulnerable groups. But regardless of whether the EEOC’s plans go into effect, it’s a good idea to do this work. After all, a company can’t complain about talent shortages if it hasn’t optimized its systems to attract as many people as possible. And ignoring groups of people can be even more costly to the bottom line than a resulting lawsuit from the EEOC.