Groups weigh in on proposed changes to EEO complaint process

As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nears a decision on a series of changes to the federal complaints process, employee groups are calling for stricter enforcement of some of the commission's rules and for a more cautious approach to new programs.

"More work needs to be done in order to make the dispute settlement process more efficient and fair," said Federally Employed Women, an employee affinity group, in a statement.

EEOC proposed a series of changes in December 2009 after processing feedback from a 2002 public meeting and an internal working group. Recommended reforms included requiring agencies to file responses to complaints electronically; treating administrative judges' decisions as final unless an agency appeals them; requiring agencies to notify employees if they cannot finish investigations within 180 days; and delaying the date by which agencies must pay penalties to employees until after the window for filing appeals has closed.

The proposal also stated EEOC "intends to provide a mechanism for reviewing and seeking compliance" from agencies that fail to meet requirements to submit MD-715 reports on workforce diversity. The document outlining the suggestions did not, however, elaborate on what that mechanism might be. FEW proposed publishing a list of the agencies that failed to file reports on time in the Federal Register, or another major public record. Half of federal agencies missed the filing deadline in 2006.

"It seems to us that most federal agencies would not want to be seen missing mandated deadlines by those who control their budgets," the group wrote to Stephen Llewellyn, executive officer of EEOC's secretariat.

EEOC spokesman David Grinberg said it would be premature to comment on any recommendations from outside groups before the agency had a chance to review and consider all of them.

The Administrative Judges Association of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a professional association of EEOC judges, and FEW agreed that it was important for the commission to continue to accept paper complaint submissions, even if the agency encourages employees to file electronically. The Judges Association said employees who were filing without being represented by counsel should have the right to submit paper documents, and FEW noted some employees might not have access to electronic filing technology. Both groups said there should not be penalties for paper filing.

Both organizations also expressed concern about EEOC's proposal to allow extensive programs to experiment with elements of the complaints process. The Judges Association said pilots should be limited to parts of the complaints process that precede hearings, which they said should be preserved. The group also wrote that pilots should not be approved until agencies consult with employees and employee groups, and employees should have the option to choose to have their complaint considered through a traditional process. And FEW said that while one year might not be enough time to determine the efficacy of pilots, such programs should be extended only one year a time and limited to two extensions.

Finally, the Judges Association said EEOC should consider, as part of its overall improvements, recruiting administrative judges at higher entry-level pay grades.

"If compensation levels measure the value of an employee's worth to an agency mission, the commission's consistent practice of hiring judges at unduly low compensation levels clearly signals that vindicating federal employees' civil rights is not an important goal," the organization wrote.

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