On August 29, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues. The document is a helpful tool for employers when navigating the often-treacherous retaliation road, and will be used by agency investigators, plaintiffs' attorneys, and courts as a guidepost when examining employer actions. Here are 10 things you need to know about the guidance in order to stay up to speed.
The Guidance Is Not Gospel.
First things first: this guidance is not controlling law. It is not on par with statutes, regulations, and court decisions. However, that does not mean that you should ignore the document. Not only does it compile a treasure trove of controlling authority in the form of case citations and references to law, but courts will often look to agency guidance when called upon to examine a thorny issue.
The Guidance Was Necessary.
This guidance replaces the agency's discussion on retaliation contained in its 1998 Compliance Manual, the last such document on the topic. A lot has changed in the intervening 18 years, necessitating the updated and revised document. Most notably, the number of retaliation claims filed against employers each year has skyrocketed.
In 2015, for example, nearly 40,000 EEOC retaliation charges were filed against employers, an all-time high and a 119% increase since 1998. Moreover, retaliation charges have been the most frequently alleged claims filed with the agency since 2009, accounting for over 44% of all charges in 2015.
The Guidance Covers A Broad Array Of Claims.
The guidance covers all of the types of retaliation claims governed by the EEOC, which includes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Protection Act (EPA), Title II of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Guidance Discusses What Activity Is "Protected."
Not every employee action can form the basis of a retaliation charge; only a certain kind of "opposition" will serve as a valid basis. The EEOC guidance states that opposition will only satisfy this standard if it is reasonable, and that the employee must base the opposition on a good faith belief that the employer conduct is, or could become, unlawful.
The original draft of the guidance, proposed by the EEOC in January 2016, took several positions that seemed...