EEOC ongoing office closures harming workers - House Republican

2 minute read

The seal of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seen in their office in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 17, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • EEOC field offices have been closed for more than two years
  • House member said closures hinder workers seeking help
  • EEOC chair said union negotiations are ongoing

(Reuters) - A Republican on a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Wednesday pressed the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the agency's plans to reopen regional offices, saying their prolonged closure during the COVID-19 pandemic is harming workers.

Representative Russ Fulcher of Idaho during a hearing said the EEOC's 53 field offices remain closed even though most other government agencies, schools and businesses are now fully open, and asked Chair Charlotte Burrows whether the risk posed by COVID-19 still outweighs the effects of those closures on vulnerable workers.

“We know that a lack of on-site EEOC personnel hinders the ability of claimants to receive the help the agency was created to provide," Fulcher said.

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Burrows responded that reopening offices is a top priority for the agency and the EEOC is in the midst of negotiations with a union representing its staffers, but she did not give a timeline for a return to in-person work.

"The fact that our offices are closed doesn't mean we're not working," Burrows said.

Senior EEOC leadership returned to the office last month, but most of the agency's 2,000 employees are union members. Plans to bring staffers back into regional offices in March were delayed amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.

Some House Republicans had sent a letter to Burrows last month expressing concerns about the delayed reopening.

Wednesday's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services was aimed at reviewing the policies and priorities of the EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. OFCCP, a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, enforces anti-discrimination requirements for federal contractors.

Fulcher and other Republicans on the subcommittee raised concerns about OFCCP's November proposal to withdraw a Trump-era rule that expanded a religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws for federal contractors. The lawmakers said the move could discourage religious organizations from seeking federal contracts.

Jenny Yang, the director of OFCCP, told the panel that the purpose of withdrawing the rule was to ensure that agency regulations are in line with applicable court precedent.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.