CHICAGO – Employees in the Chicago area and other select metropolitan areas will now be able to initiate employment discrimination claims against their employers through an online portal.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently set up an online portal called the "Online Inquiry and Appointment System," or OIAS, which will provide employees with another way to file a claim for employment discrimination.
The EEOC has rolled out a pilot program for the system in Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte, N.C. The commission plans to implement it nationally.
“As the EEOC expands its online presence, it precedes each national rollout with pilot programs,” Michael C. Greene, an attorney at Fisher Phillips in Columbia, S.C., told the Cook County Record. “This is a way for the agency to test its systems. It is similar to a technology company beta-testing new software to fix undiscovered glitches before a full-scale product launch.”
Prior to the portal's launch, the EEOC allowed employees to file an employment discrimination claim by mail, in person or over the phone. The addition of OIAS provides a digital foray that the EEOC said will make the process more streamlined and paperless.
The addition of OIAS could make it easier for employees to file claims against their employer because the digital option will likely be more accessible and convenient for users.
“According to the EEOC, approximately 200,000 inquiries were received last year, and about 90,000 (or 45 percent) resulted in a charge,” Greene said. “While the number of inquiries could increase and, therefore, the number of charges, we do not anticipate a significant increase. In fact, the opposite might be argued. Providing individuals with more access, the EEOC may receive more frivolous inquiries. At this time, it is hard to definitively predict how OIAS will affect charge numbers, if it affects them at all.”
While a claim against an employer can be filed through OIAS, it doesn’t necessarily mean discrimination charges will be filed against the employer. With EEOC processing nearly 200,000 claims annually, only a portion of them turn into action for the organization.
“We don’t expect to see a flood of new claims,” Greene said. “OIAS does not permit an individual to directly file charges of discrimination against their employers. Rather, OIAS offers a new avenue for taking the first step in filing a charge. The EEOC will still screen all inquiries, and only those inquiries that meet minimum thresholds will progress to an EEOC charge.”
For employers, this could mean additional vigilance is necessary when it comes to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. A brush-up on human resources procedures and EEO policy practices also may be required.
“They can largely continue business as normal, but I would also suggest this is a good time to review HR training and EEO policy enforcement practices," Greene said. "It is a good time to make sure there aren’t any holes. This might make for a good opportunity to do some 'spring cleaning' and address any lingering concerns employers have about weaknesses in their processes. But even if you think everything is going smoothly, an internal compliance audit might be wise just to double-check the systems.”
The EEOC plans to launch OIAS nationally before the end of its next fiscal year. The program is anticipated to be available to employees by the end of September.