Government agencies will undoubtedly feel the impact for a significant time of the recent, record long government shutdown. The impact of the convulsive operational pace will have a trickledown effect on any and all doing business with federal agencies, some more than others, considering some agencies are often times granted extended funding to operate fully or partially. Unlike the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), both of which are fully funded through October 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) closed completely during the recent shutdown due to lack of funding.
Like after past closures, the substantial backlog of cases has placed everyone at the mercy of the multi-faceted EEOC process – a process that is now likely several months behind. So, what does this process look like from all angles?
If you are interested in filing a charge of harassment or discrimination, the slowdown in operations should not deter you from filing your complaint. You should begin the filing process by submitting a Pre-Charge Inquiry. If any time the government is closed, the EEOC’s online Public Portal will not likely accept inquiries, but the EEOC does accept inquiries related to job discrimination by mail, drop off or fax only. The EEOC Pre-Charge Inquiry can be found on the EEOC’s website.
Be aware that during a closure, time limits may remain in place even though the filing process may take much longer than normal. Your time limit for filing a charge will also remain after the EEOC opens and works towards processing complaints again. Generally, charges must be filed within one hundred and eighty (180) days of the discriminatory action by the employer.
When filing a charge with the EEOC, remember to include the following information:
- Your name, address and phone number (email address would be helpful but is not required);
- The name, address and phone number of the employer, union, employment agency or other organization you think discriminated against you;
- The job action you think was discriminatory, when it occurred, and the reason it was taken (whether it was based on race; color; religion; sex; national origin; age; disability; genetic information; or based on retaliation for filing a charge of job discrimination, participating in an investigation of a job discrimination complaint, or opposing job discrimination; or for another protected reason).
- A request for the EEOC to take remedial action.
For those who had received notice of your right to sue prior to the shutdown time limits for filing your case in court were not postponed while your request was pending. Remember that regardless of government operations, if your suit is not filed within the time period allotted, you will lose forever the right to file your case.
In regard to mediations, any and all mediations scheduled prior to the shutdown were cancelled and will be rescheduled when the EEOC is able. Any Federal hearing/proceeding before an Administrative Judge (settlement conference, pre-hearing conference, mediation, hearing on a motion, or hearing on merits) will also be postponed until further notice. Similarly, discovery submission deadlines or submitting motions set by the EEOC were suspended during the shutdown, and the general rule is that deadlines will be extended by the number of days the government is or was shutdown.
In this day and age, the internet is typically the best source of instantaneous updates. Unfortunately, the EEOC does not update its website until the agency reopens. Therefore, during a closure information is limited to what is posted at that time. It is recommended to stay abreast of the government shutdown status so that you are aware of any processing movement and deadline changes, and check the EEOC Public Portal often for updates.
If you would like to file a charge, if you’re on standby for any EEOC service, or are in need guidance on navigating through the backlogged EEOC process, reach out to an attorney for assistance. A simple consultation with and continued assistance from an attorney could result in a clearer understanding of your rights; a stronger, a more detailed charge; and a valuable short-term and long-term case strategy. All of these would then position your harassment or discrimination claim for greater success, which would be helpful if you later decided to file a lawsuit or attempt earlier resolution with your employer or former employer.
A slowdown in process should not mean that you lose sight of your goal in filing a charge against an employer for harassment or discrimination or otherwise seeking a remedy as a victim of discrimination. Stay informed, consult with an employment attorney to help you jump through the hoops of the EEOC process during the shutdown, and continue your fight for an equal workplace.