Seyfarth Synopsis: As we approach the start of the holiday season, employers should be mindful of the inherent risk that accompanies holiday parties and other seasonal events. Notably, in light of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) year-end filing numbers, employers must take extra caution to stay off the EEOC’s radar. In today’s video, Associate Alex Karasik and Partner Jerry Maatman analyze the EEOC’s 2018 fiscal year trends, and discuss how employers can avoid becoming the target of an EEOC-initiated lawsuit.

In its first full year under the Trump Administration, to the surprise of many observers who thought the EEOC’s filing numbers would decline after a busy FY 2017, the EEOC continued to increase its filing numbers. In fact, the Commission filed 15 more lawsuits in FY 2018 as compared to last year, and more than twice as many as the final year under the Obama Administration in FY 2016. Additionally, per a recent EEOC press release, the Commission announced it recovered $505 million for victims of workplace discrimination this year, an increase of over $20 million in comparison to FY 2017.

However, overshadowing the general increase in filing activity was the EEOC’s considerable surge in lawsuits alleging sexual harassment. This trend was well-chronicled not only by major news outlets, but also by the EEOC itself through the issuance of a rare press release just days after the end of its fiscal year. In this press release, the EEOC publicized its 41 sexual harassment filings, as well as a 12% increase in sexual harassment charges and approximately $70 million recovered for victims of workplace sexual harassment.

For a full breakdown of the EEOC’s 2018 filing activity, check out our annual blog post on this topic.

Tips For Employers During The Holiday Season

As the weather cools down and employer risk heats up with annual holiday parties, business leaders must be attentive to all activities within the workplace. It is important to remember that even though holiday parties often include festive accompaniments such as music and alcohol, these events are an extension of the workplace and should be treated as such. Put simply, employers are liable for any inappropriate behavior that occurs at a holiday party.

Therefore, clear reporting procedures are especially important for business during this time. This makes the holiday season a perfect time to redistribute written policies and conduct employee and bystander training on workplace harassment. Furthermore, managers and HR personnel must be diligent in immediately addressing, reporting, and documenting any incident that may be considered unlawful behavior in the workplace.

For a full overview of the EEOC’s FY 2018 trends and further advice for employers, be sure to watch Jerry and Alex’s explanation in the video above. Remember to stay tuned to our blog, as we will soon be publishing a full analysis of the EEOC’s Performance and Accountability Report (“PAR”) as soon as it is released.