The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently released their year-end litigation round up for its 2023 fiscal year and the results should put employers on high alert.

In the period spanning October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023, the EEOC initiated 143 lawsuits against employers, marking a staggering 50% surge compared to the previous fiscal year. Among these cases, 25 were identified as systemic. The EEOC defines systemic cases as “pattern or practice, policy and/or class cases where the discrimination has a broad impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic location.” The number of systemic cases filed in EEOC’s 2023 fiscal year is almost double the number filed in each of the past three fiscal years and it is the largest number of systemic filings in the past 5 years. The remaining cases comprised 32 non-systemic class suits seeking relief for multiple victims and 86 individual suits seeking redress for discrimination.

In response to this uptick in litigation, the EEOC’s 2024 budget has seen a significant increase by $26 million. This budget increase signals an impending escalation in employment discrimination investigations, including the recruitment of more investigators and the filing of additional lawsuits. Employers are strongly advised to take proactive measures to prevent discrimination in their workplaces, considering the current enforcement climate.

There are some simple steps employers can take in this new year to make sure they do not become a statistic in the EEOC’s fiscal year 2024.

The company handbook should be reviewed on an annual basis. Employers should make sure that all policies align with current laws and are clear and easy to understand for all employees.

Establishing an annual training schedule is recommended, including training on harassment and discrimination awareness. Additionally, managers need to be trained on their obligations under company policies as well as the company’s process and procedure for handling complaints. HR professionals should also go through periodic training to make sure they are up-to-date on discrimination and other laws in the workplace.

Employers should routinely review processes for addressing discrimination and harassment issues to ensure that the company has a consistent and effective way of handling these types of issues. Failing to implement a standardized procedure can expose companies to additional liability. It is crucial to enforce thorough discipline not only for individuals engaging in discriminatory behavior but also for managers who neglect to uphold company policies.

If an employer believes there may be systemic discrimination or harassment ongoing in the workplace, or the employer feels unequipped to handle a complaint internally, employers can opt to bring in an external investigator. This approach ensures a proper and impartial investigation. It also allows the investigator to provide recommendations on how to properly respond to a complaint and how to correct unlawful behavior in the workplace.

Taking proactive steps to prevent discrimination and harassment significantly reduces the risk of EEOC lawsuits. With the new year here, it is a great time for employers to plan and implement proactive steps to protect their company from discrimination claims.