DOL and EEOC could receive major financial boost in 2010

The House approved a massive $447 billion spending bill that would provide a significant bump in funding for the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for fiscal year 2010. The Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288), which combines six separate spending measures, passed by a vote of 221-202 on December 10. The bill is now with the Senate and must be passed by December 18 – or extended by a temporary measure to keep it afloat.

Here are a few highlights regarding the proposed funding:

=> $13.3 billion for the DOL, with $1.6 billion earmarked for worker safety and health programs ($121 million more than the amount provided in 2009)

What it means: More financial support for the enforcement and compliance initiatives of the Employment Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Employment Standards Administration (ESA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) – including the hiring of 600 new, full-time employees. Employers could see a greater presence by OSHA, with more inspections, more audits of safety records and more enforcement of required safety standards.

=> $367 million for the EEOC ($23 million more than the amount provided in 2009)

What it means: More funding to ease the backlog of 70,000+ pending employment discrimination cases. The EEOC received 93,277 private-sector discrimination charges in 2009, the second-highest number in 20 years. Employers could see more employee lawsuits coming their way for discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion or disability.

So while we can’t be certain how this bill will play out in the coming months, we do know that President Obama's administration places a high priority on employment and labor law reform, particularly the enforcement of laws designed to protect employees.

Now, more than ever, employers need to step up their compliance and training programs to prevent costly fines and potential lawsuits. In light of this possible funding and renewed enforcement, you would be wise to:

1. Conduct procedural audits and other internal reviews to identify any issues that require immediate action.

2. Review and revise the employment policies in your company’s Employee Handbook and ensure they’re properly distributed. Be certain your policies reflect the many employment law developments in the past year, such as changes to the ADA, FMLA and COBRA.

3. Assess your internal complaint procedures (as well as your employees’ awareness of such procedures). Employees who cannot voice their concerns are more likely to feel powerless and as a result, take legal action against their employers.

4. Provide ongoing harassment prevention and anti-discrimination training to employees and managers. Your company must send a clear message that harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace – and support that message with education on how to recognize and prevent harassment.

5. Maintain up-to-date labor law postings and other specialized, employee-facing posters, which keep your company in compliance and act as a first line of defense in an employee-based lawsuit.

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