Final rule updates regulations on how documents are sent.

Final rule updates regulations on how documents are sent. Everyday better to do everything you love / iStock / Getty Images

EEOC finalizes electronic filing options for feds

Although the agency that investigates complaints of workplace discrimination has offered the option to file documents and track cases online for years, its regulations now finally endorse the current system.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Thursday finalized new regulations codifying the agency’s optional electronic filing systems and potentially reducing its reliance on paper in cases involving federal workers and agencies.

When EEOC, which investigates and adjudicates complaints of workplace discrimination in both the federal government and the private sector, last updated its regulations a decade ago, it simply required agencies to submit complaint files and appeals in “an acceptable digital format.”

But in the intervening years, the agency developed two new iterations of software by which agencies and feds can send and receive documents related to their cases. The Federal Sector EEO Portal (FedSEP) is available only in federal sector cases, while the EEOC’s Public Portal was designed for use by private sector employers, but is now accessible to both employers and claimants, and is increasingly used in federal sector cases as well.

In rules first proposed last fall and published in their final form Thursday in the Federal Register, EEOC updated its regulations governing the transmission of documents to better reflect the two systems’ use, as well as to cease sending documents via mail in cases where the parties have opted into using the portals. EEOC must continue to send documents via first class mail when a party has either not signed up to use the portals or has indicated they would prefer physical documents.

“The final rule formalizes the current use of electronic communications between the EEOC and its stakeholders by explicitly providing for the digital transmission of complaint files, hearing requests and associated documents, appeals and associated documents, and commission decisions,” EEOC wrote. “The final rule confirms that the digital receipt of hearing requests, appeals, commission hearing and appellate decisions and related documents is equivalent to receipt by first class mail. Nevertheless, the final rule makes clear that a complainant’s use of the portal is voluntary.”

Additionally, the agency’s administrative judges are authorized to use email to transmit documents to the parties in a case.

When EEOC sought comments on the new regulations when they were still in draft form, an organization representing attorneys suggested that merely signing up for an account with one of the two online document portals should make complainants able to opt into receiving documents only via electronic means, as well as be able to choose to receive documents both electronically as well as via mail. The agency agreed, albeit only partly.

“A functionality will be added to the portal for complainants to indicate this preference,” EEOC wrote. “Complainants who do not give their consent will receive [Office of Federal Operations] communications through first class mail and AJ communications through first class mail or email (if they provide an email address). However, the EEOC does not think it efficient to continue to use first class mail or other methods of communicating after a complainant affirmatively agrees to communicate with the portal.”

The new regulations went into effect Thursday.