complaint button on keyboard (ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com)

EEOC preps for #MeToo complaints

As the list of men who have lost their jobs because of sexual harassment allegations grows daily, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stands to see an increase in complaints about private- and even public-sector workers. If that happens, the agency will rely on its Digital Charge System (DCS) and other tech upgrades to keep the backlog of complaints EEOC maintains at bay.

The number of visits to EEOC’s harassment webpage has doubled recently, according to a recent  USA Today article. But DCS has already shown effectiveness at decreasing EEOC’s backlog. It reached a 10-year low of 61,621 complaints in fiscal 2017, down from 73,508 in fiscal 2016, according to EEOC’s fiscal 2017 Performance and Accountability Report. Overall in fiscal 2017, EEOC resolved more than 99,000 charges -- 1,600 more than in the previous fiscal year.

The system -- tested in 2015 at 11 EEOC offices and implemented at all 53 sites on Jan. 1, 2016 -- has two phases. The first lets employers against whom a charge has been filed interact with EEOC through a Respondent Portal. Employers can view the charge, opt to mediate or respond to it, submit a position statement or request for information, and provide contact information, including for a legal representative.

All these sensitive documents submitted to EEOC are secured by encryption of data-at-rest, the report stated.

Phase II, deployed in fiscal 2017, added a similar secure portal for individuals who file charges, and in November 2017, EEOC released DCS’ Online Inquiry and Scheduling tool, which had been tested at five offices earlier in the year. It lets users file pre-charge inquiries online, schedule appointments at EEOC offices, exchange documents with the agency and electronically sign the charge of discrimination.

More than 4,500 inquiries were started during the pilot of the Online Inquiry and Scheduling tool, 1,354 of those became formal charges of discrimination. EEOC  saved more than 1,000 hours of investigator time using the system, the report stated.

What’s more, charge-filers can check the progress of their complaint via the Online Charge Status System. In fiscal 2017, individuals viewed information on their charge status, possible next steps, and staff contact information more than 570,800 times, saving more than 20,000 hours of investigator time that would have been spent responding to calls, according to the report.

“The agency generally receives over 90,000 charges per year, making its charge system the agency’s most common interaction with the public,” the report said. “The Digital Charge System aims to improve customer service, ease the administrative burden on staff, and reduce the use of paper submissions and files. This initiative will also improve collaboration and knowledge sharing, enhance data integrity, reduce paper file storage and manual archiving/destruction requirements, and enable a more mobile workforce.”

DCS has more than 1 million documents in its digital repository, has served more than 46,000 charges and saved the agency more than $30,000 in printing, postage and related costs, according to the report.

Improvements targeted for early fiscal 2018 release include:

  • Updating the email processes to detect and log undeliverable emails.
  • Updating the Respondent Portal to improve password management, remove deleted charges and expand the types of documents that can be uploaded.
  • Deploying DCS to Fair Employment Practices Agencies to provide electronic notifications and document exchange between them and EEOC.

Federal agencies have their own EEOC system -- the Federal Sector EEO Portal, launched in 2015 -- where agencies can  upload hearing and appeals documents related to discrimination complaints. Agencies also submit their affirmative action plans and complaint-processing data through the portal.

Although DCS is whittling away at complaints, the wait time for resolutions has grown to 295 days, compared to 182 days in 2001. Additionally, budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration threaten EEOC’s progress, according to USA Today, but Nick Inzeo, director of EEOC’s Office of Field Management Programs, is optimistic.

“Every time we can do something electronically rather than by hand, it’s going to save time and probably save money,” Inzeo told FiveThirtyEight.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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