(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

In the age of Donald Trump, deregulation and anti-labor, you would think that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the five-member group of outsiders appointed by the president whose task is to enforce the federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee – would be kind of dormant. Not so. The EEOC has been as busy as ever, and if you are running a business you better make sure you’re aware of what they are up to.

In short, the theme – to no one’s surprise – has been all about sexual harassment this year.

Based on preliminary data from fiscal year 2018 (which ended 30 September) the EEOC reports that it recovered almost $70m from employers for the victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement, up from $47.5m in the previous fiscal year. Sixty-six harassment lawsuits were filed, which included 41 related to sexual harassment, an increase of more than 50% from fiscal year 2017.

This current year looks to be even more active. In addition to the settled lawsuits above, the commission has filed scores more lawsuits during this calendar year, seeking tens of thousands to millions of dollars in fines from employers who have been accused of discriminatory practices, including racial, anti-immigration, disability, pay and yes, sexual discrimination. The commission also reports that its website hits from both individuals and employers seeking more information on workplace harassment have doubled in the past year.

“We have been traveling the country, spreading the word about what the EEOC is doing and the resources we have to offer,” commissioner Chai R Feldblum, co-chair of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace said in a press release “We are at a transformative moment in our history and the EEOC will be part of making that history.” The commission vows that there is more to be done and will “continue to be there, striving to make our workplaces productive places where we can all go, do our jobs, and be free from harassment”.

One may ask how the EEOC has been so active in this pro-business, Trumpian era? For one reason, the commission, which is made up of five members, only has three active (two Republican appointees are awaiting Senate approval). All three were appointed during the Obama administration, and President Trump – who once oversaw an organization of more than 30,000 employees – has already, and to the dismay of some Republicans in Congress, reappointed two of them.

The takeaway for employers is this: the #MeToo movement is having its affect. Sexual harassment in the workplace will continue to be a big regulatory issue, as will other discriminatory behavior. The EEOC is, for the most part, the same EEOC from the last administration and that means a continued tough approach to businesses that act outside the law.

The commission has also been stepping up its outreach to employees by making it easier and providing them steps they can take to report incidents. In addition, it has been conducting events across the country and launching new training programs designed to help employers improve their internal policies and procedures. My advice for business owners is to take them up on their offer, revisit your HR policies and hire a good labor attorney.



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