President Trump has made no secret of his desire to change the direction of most federal agencies, and it appears as though the EEOC is no exception. As the EEOC has become an increasingly important part of the relationship between employers and employees, employers should pay attention to the ways in which the EEOC will change. These changes will likely include:
- A change in priorities. During the last few years of the Obama Administration, the EEOC focused on pushing new interpretations of existing employment statutes. For example, the agency took the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Given the intense Republican criticism to this policy, it is almost certain that the EEOC will back away from this. In addition, on March 31, 2018, new reporting requirements are scheduled to take effect which would require employers to provide the EEOC with data about employee pay and hours categorized by race and gender. Republicans, including Vice-President Mike Pence, have argued that these regulations are onerous on businesses and unnecessary. In light of this, it seems likely that President Trump’s EEOC will rescind these reporting requirements.
- More business-friendly personnel. Under the final years of the Obama Administration, the EEOC took an aggressive approach towards enforcing federal employment laws, bringing record numbers of lawsuits against employers. This will almost certainly change under the Trump Administration. The EEOC’s Acting Chair, Victoria Lipnic, has promised to focus on policies that create jobs. Additionally, the President will almost certainly appoint more business-friendly commissioners. The EEOC has five commissioners, and currently three of them are Democrats and a fourth mostly sides with them. The commissioners serve five-year terms, so as the terms of the Democrats comes to an end, they will likely be replaced with Republican appointees. While only three commissioners can be from the same political party, President Trump can appoint pro-business Democrats or independents to fill the other vacancies.
- A smaller budget. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to reduce funding to the Department of Labor by $2.6 billion, or 21%. That will almost certainly mean that the EEOC will be operating with a smaller budget. As a result, there will probably be fewer lawsuits brought against employers. It also might mean that the EEOC’s backlog of cases, which has been decreasing, will grow.
A less aggressive EEOC will undoubtedly benefit employers. However, the EEOC is an independent agency, so the President’s ability to influence it is more limited than it would be for a cabinet level position like the Department of Justice. Therefore, employers should expect EEOC policies to change more gradually than those of other agencies.