Proposal would give agencies more flexibility in processing EEO complaints

Federal agencies would be able to launch pilot projects testing alternate methods for processing equal employment opportunity complaints under a draft regulation the agency issued on Monday.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted unanimously at a June 2 meeting to revise how federal employee complaints are processed. The draft rule would permit EEOC to allow agencies to experiment for up to one year with different ways to process complaints. Agencies are expected to provide regular reports on the progress of the projects, according to the EEOC proposal.

Currently, federal employees or job applicants who want to file complaints with federal agencies may choose to participate in either counseling or alternative dispute resolution. If counseling is unsuccessful, the employee can file a complaint, after which the agency must conduct an investigation. After the investigation phase, the complainant can request a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge or demand an immediate final decision from the agency.

"Innovation comes from experiments, and oftentimes the best ideas really do come from within," said EEOC Vice Chairwoman Leslie Silverman. "Pilot programs will provide us with some solutions for agencies going into the future."

The draft regulation came out of an EEOC work group led by Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru. The group has been studying federal sector EEO practices since 2004.

The draft regulation also would give EEOC administrative judges more authority in settling class action lawsuits. Under current law, federal agencies can accept, reject or modify an administrative judge's recommended decision. The regulation would place class action complaint procedures on the same level as the individual complaint process, which does not give agencies such recourse.

In addition, the proposal would require federal agencies that have not completed an investigation within 180 days to send a notice to the employee, informing the complainant of his or her right to request a hearing or file a lawsuit. The written notice would describe the hearing process and require an explanation for the agency's failure to process the case within the 180-day period.

Monday's vote by EEOC authorized the draft regulation to be sent out to federal agencies for comment. EEOC said it would evaluate agency comments and consider revisions to the draft before submitting it to the Federal Register.

"The one thing I learned is how important the federal EEO process is to federal workers," Ishimaru said. "While the goal has always been for the federal workplace to be a model workplace, we know that is not always the case."

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