The Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Charlotte A. Burrows, has made clear that retaliation in the workplace is both a persistent and urgent problem across America. She has asserted that the staggering increase in the percentage of charges alleging retaliation over the last 20 years has merited big steps being taken to try and combat this problem. To do so, the EEOC and the Department of Labor (DOL), as well as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), have teamed up to come up with effective strategies to ebb the flow of retaliatory action in U.S. workplaces.
EEOC, DOL, and NLRB Announce Joint Initiative to Combat Workplace Retaliation
Prohibited retaliation addresses adverse actions taken against a worker that engages in a statutorily protected act. This right of a worker to be free from retaliation and workplace discrimination is protected by federal laws such as Title VII and the FLSA. Each law provides different rules, with the rules overlapping at times. With each federal agency carrying its own responsibilities regarding the enforcement and promotion of anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections, it is no wonder that a joint initiative between the major players has now been announced.
The EEOC, DOL, and NLRB made announcements on November 10, 2021, that the three federal agencies would be participating in a joint initiative geared towards combatting workplace retaliation. Each of these agencies already plays its own role when it comes to the enforcement of anti-retaliation laws. The EEOC is tasked with protecting the rights of workers pursuant to Title VII and other nondiscrimination laws in an attempt to help provide Americans with workplaces free from harassing and discriminatory workplaces. The DOL is tasked with the enforcement of federal labor standards pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act in addition to the health and safety regulations passing through OSHA. Lastly, the NLRB is tasked with protecting the right of workers to organize in an effort to improve working conditions, a right granted by the National Labor Relations Act.
The joint initiative connects the three agencies through a historic Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). Previously, there was an MOU between the DOL and EEOC as well as one between the NLRB and EEOC. There was never an MOU in place that linked all three agencies. NLRB’s General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, asserted in a press release published by the three agencies that there was a need for a joint initiative due to retaliation issues existing in a cross-section of multiple worker protection agencies. Thus, collaboration is required to effectively prevent retaliatory acts against workers, in addition, to forcefully address the problem.
While it remains somewhat unclear what will go on with this joint initiative, it is likely that employers can expect more education regarding preventing workplace retaliation. This is due to the fact that one of the reasons for the initiative’s creation is to raise awareness about prohibited retaliation. Also, while it is not certain, employers should brace themselves for potentially stronger enforcement activities.
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