US lawmakers “extremely concerned” about proposed official time policy

By on 28/01/2020
Chair of the Oversight Committee, Carolyn Maloney, has raised concerns about the EEOC's proposed 'official time' rule change

Two members of Congress have written to the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to express concern about a proposal that could make it harder for federal employees to bring discrimination cases against their agencies.

The proposal, which was published by the EEOC last month, would deny representatives the use of ‘official time’ when advising or representing a co-worker in a discrimination case, upending more than 40 years of precedent.

Instead, union officials’ ability to be compensated while they work on equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaints would be subject to individual agencies’ collective bargaining agreements.

Carolyn Maloney, chair of the Oversight Committee, and Bobby Scott, chair of the Education and Labor Committee, wrote to EEOC chair Janet Dhillon last week, asking for a slew of documents related to the draft policy.

The letter stated: “We are extremely concerned about the potential effects of this proposed rule on the enforcement of employment anti-discrimination laws and policies affecting federal employees and the fairness of the federal workplace.”

Maloney and Scott, who are both Democrats, have requested information about the potential financial cost to claimants who might have to pay attorneys to represent them instead of enlisting a union representative on official time. They also want to know how the policy might affect the effectiveness and efficiency of EEO proceedings.

They have asked to see communications between EEOC officials who drafted the rule, any cost-benefit analysis undertaken while doing so, and all comments from federal agencies to EEOC about the proposed rule.

“Chilling effects”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) said in a statement in November, when the policy was being drawn up, that it had “illegal, chilling effects” on the rights of federal workers and “damning implications for First Amendment issues of the freedom to associate and freedoms of speech”.

The proposed rule change was prompted by three executive orders signed by president Trump in May 2018. As well as seeking to weaken unions’ clout, they also make it easier for agencies to fire federal employees – for example, by shortening performance improvement plans to 30 days.  

Two federal unions launched legal proceedings challenging the orders and in August last year, a district court judge quashed key tenets of the orders, ruling that together they “eviscerated” federal employees’ bargaining rights, and that the White House had exceeded its powers by issuing them. However, the Trump administration won an appeal against the ruling, prompting the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to give agencies to go-ahead to implement the orders.

The Veterans Affairs Department, which provides healtcare services to former military personnel, was one of the first to respond. Union representatives at the agency are having their representative work dramatically curtailed and face eviction if they don’t start paying rent on office space at the agency.

The proposed EEOC rule is open for public consultation until 10 February.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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