The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is in the business of keeping people from being treated unfairly in the workplace. Somewhat ironically, the vast majority of the EEOC’s employees are at home today, having been forced out of work since the federal government shut down 11 days ago. Their lack of employment during the shutdown is also affecting thousands of employees in the private sector who have been harassed, discriminated, retaliated against, and underpaid.
Due to the EEOC’s shutdown contingency plan, approximately 100 of the EEOC’s nearly 2200 employees are working during the furlough period. According to the agency’s plan, those employees will simply stamp claims of discrimination with their receipt dates as they are filed. Investigation of those charges, however, will not continue until the federal government is reopened and funding is properly restored.
The agency will not be available to answer questions from the public or to respond to correspondence from the public. Furthermore, the agency will avoid litigation in federal courts, cancel all mediations and federal sector hearings, and ignore appeals on charges of discrimination. No Freedom of Information Act requests will be processed and the EEOC’s outreach and education events are all canceled. According to its contingency plan, “only activities involving the safety of human life or the protection of property will continue.”
The Department of Labor, like the EEOC, is responsible for protecting employees’ rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, less than 3000 of its 16,000+ employees are in the office. What’s worse is that in the Wage and Hour Division, only 6 of the more than 1,800 employees are at work.
While the federal government shutdown directly impacts federal employees, due to the EEOC and DOL’s absence during this time, it is also affecting employees in other sectors who have been discriminated, harassed, and underpaid.
Joshua Newville is an attorney and mediator based in Minnesota. He litigates employment and civil rights cases, serves as a mediator for civil disputes, and provides employment law advice.