Senior House Republicans are seeking clarification from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the agency’s plans to end telework for staff.
In a letter obtained by FedScoop, ranking members of two house committees call on leaders at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to end telework for all of its about 2,000-strong workforce.
The lawmakers also demand the agency reopen all its offices across the country, and that it provide in-depth information about challenges faced by agency leadership while trying to bring staff back to the office.
“We are concerned EEOC does not have an immediately executable plan for returning its personnel to in-person work,” says the missive.
The letter adds: “The EEOC’s mission is to ‘prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination and advance equal opportunity for all in the workplace.’ However, with no offices open for claimants to file their discrimination charges and no publicly available plans outlining EEOC’s return to regular operations, we are concerned the Commission is not meeting its obligations to workers,” the letter adds.
Senior leaders at the agency will start returning to in-person work on March 28, while other managers are scheduled to come back to the office along with non-supervisory and non-bargaining unit employees in early April, according to EEOC.
The department in a statement added that all other employees will receive at least 30 days’ prior notice of their expected return dates.
The letter is addressed to EEOC chair Charlotte Burrows and will be sent Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. It is signed by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., ranking member on the Education and Labor Committee, and James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Lawmakers are requesting further information after the agency in January said it would pause reentry plans for staff and agreed to bargain with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union. This came after the union filed two unfair labor practice complaints against the agency.
AFGE had earlier called on the department to halt its reentry plans after arguing it had been “blindsided” by a requirement for staff to return to the office full time, which it said was announced in an email by management without appropriate consultation.
In the letter, lawmakers also request a range of specific information from EEOC, such as all documents and communications since Jan. 20, 2021, relating to return-to-work plans.
In addition, the letter demands further information about which EEOC offices remain closed and why, and how geographical information is being used to determine the pay of teleworking staff.
EEOC is one of several government agencies working to formulate policy for staff as the country returns to normality after the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency signed a memorandum with AFGE agreeing parameters for the reentry of staff to the office.
Responding to the letter, an AFGE spokesperson said: “EEOC employees are always eager to meet the needs of the public, as they have done throughout the pandemic. The union is trying to negotiate a future workplace with an expanded hybrid of telework and in-person work, which would be the best way to recognize the amazing success of telework for the agency, the public, and the workforce and allow employees to continue to deliver for the American people in a safe, healthy workplace, as well as with popular virtual service options.”
A department spokesperson said: “The agency has received and is reviewing the letter. We are happy to work with our partners in Congress to ensure the vigorous enforcement of the federal laws that protect equal employment opportunity in America’s workplaces.
They added: “The EEOC is committed to protecting the health and safety of our workforce. At the same time, we must ensure that the agency continues to vigorously pursue our vitally important mission. The laws we enforce help workers from all industries, incomes, and walks of life, some of whom face daunting barriers to accessing EEOC’s services remotely. It’s critical that EEOC is accessible to people who need us the most.”
This story was updated to include comment from AFGE and EEOC.