Business and Employee Groups Oppose Merger of OFCCP with EEOC

President Trump’s 2018 budget, released on May 23, proposes to merge the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the end of FY 2018.  The proposed merger purports to result in “one agency to combat employment discrimination.”  The Trump administration asserts that the merger would “reduce operational redundancies, promote efficiencies, improve services to citizens, and strengthen civil rights enforcement.”

Both business groups and employee civil rights organizations have opposed the measure, albeit for different reasons.  The OFCCP is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, while the EEOC is an independent federal agency.  Although both deal with issues of employment discrimination, their mandates, functions and focus are different.  The OFCCP’s function is to ensure that federal government contractors take affirmative action to avoid discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and protected veteran status.  The OFCCP, which was created in 1978, enforces Executive Order 11246, as amended, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1975.  The EEOC administers and enforces several federal employment discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, gender identity, genetic information, and retaliation for complaining or supporting a claim of discrimination.  Its function is to investigation individual charges of discrimination brought by private and public sector employees against their employers.  The EEOC was established in 1965, following the enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Business groups oppose the OFCCP’s merger into the EEOC due to concerns that it would create a more powerful EEOC with greater enforcement powers.  For example, the OFCCP conducts audits, which compile substantial data on government contractors’ workforces, while the EEOC possesses the power to subpoena employer records.  Combining these tools could provide the “new” EEOC with substantially greater enforcement power.  Civil rights and employee organizations oppose the merger, believing that overall it would result in less funding for the combined functions currently performed by each agency.

The budget proposal is consistent with the Trump administration’s goal to reduce costs and redundancies through a reorganization of governmental functions and elimination of executive branch agencies.  In light of opposition from both employers and employees, however, the measure lacks a powerful proponent; as a result, it is unlikely that the administration will succeed in effecting a combination, at least as it is currently proposed.

This post was written by Salvatore G. Gangemi of Murtha Cullina.

OFCCP Reduces Veteran Hiring Benchmark

OFCCPOn June 16th, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, OFCCP, announced that, effective March 4, 2016, the annual hiring benchmark for veterans pursuant to Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, VEVRAA,regulation is 6.9%.  This is a slight decrease from last year’s 7.0% benchmark.

As part of the release OFCCP clarified that

“Contractors who adopted the previous year’s national benchmark of 7 percent after March 4, 2016, but prior to this announcement may keep their benchmark at 7 percent.”

The agency noted that going forward the effective date for the annual benchmark will match the date the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the data from which OFCCP calculates the benchmark.  This usually takes place in March every year.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016

OFCCP Releases Disability Self-Id Public Service Video

OFCCP Logo on paperAs part of its ongoing effort to provide employers with tools to educate and inform employees and non-employees about affirmative action obligations, Office of Federal Contract Compliace ProgramsOFCCP, has released a new disability self-identification public service-like video entitled Disability Inclusion Starts With You. 

Coinciding with its recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Agency invites employers and community organizations to download the video and use it as a way to inform employees (and potential employees) about the importance of self-identification.  The video also explains the regulatory obligation employers have to request this information and emphasizes the voluntary nature of the process.

The video and additional information can be found of OFCCP’s webpage.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

The New OFCCP Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Protections Are Now In Effect

Proskauer Rose LLP, Law Firm

Executive Order (“EO”) 11246, as amended by EO 13762, officially went into effect, representing the first time in the federal sector that sexual orientation and gender identity have been expressly protected. On July 21, 2014, President Obama issued EO 13762, which amended EO 11246 to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. These additional protections are being incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulations (“FAR”), which will become effective tomorrow, April 10, 2015.

In order to educate the public on these new protections, the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) is conducting a series of webinars regarding the new sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Thus far, the webinars have focused on the obligations of federal contractors and the procedures available to claimants for filing a complaint under the new protections. We have summarized below key points from the webinar:

To Whom Does This Apply?

These new protections apply to any federal contractor, subcontractor, or government funded construction contractor that enters into or renews a federal contract or contracts valued at $10,000 or more per year. These new protections only apply to contracts entered into or renewed on or after April 8, 2015. These protections do not apply to organizations receiving grants from the federal government.

Administrative Changes Required By Employers

Under the new protections, employers must update the EEO language on their job advertisements, their EEO policies, and their “EEO is the Law” poster. The poster need not be updated until the OFCCP releases a supplement. The OFCCP has not yet announced when this supplement will be released.

With respect to the EEO language, the OFCCP has said that employers can simply say “Equal Employment Opportunity” on their job postings. However, if the employer chooses to list out the protected groups, it must list “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The OFCCP does not endorse the use of the acronym “LGBT,” as this is not representative of the entire protected class.

Dual Filing With The EEOC

The OFCCP clarified that any complaints alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination are considered “dual-filed” with the EEOC. This means that the OFCCP will stand in the shoes of the EEOC when investigating the Title VII component of the complaint. While Title VII does not overtly protect against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, the EEOC has taken the position that these classifications are protected under Title VII and will pursue cases on behalf of these individuals.

As a consequence of the dual-filing process, if the OFCCP does not find cause or does not dispose of a case within 180 days, an employee can request a Notice of Right to Sue from the OFCCP to bring a private cause of action against the employer. This is significant as EO 11246 does not provide for a private cause of action. The OFCCP clarified, however, that it does not intend to pursue the compensatory and punitive damages available under Title VII (which are not available under the EO).

Religious Affiliated Contractors

In one of the webinars, the OFCCP clarified that all federal contractors, including religiously affiliated federal contractors, are required to comply with the new protections. This means that even those contractors who have been granted certain religious exemptions under EO 11246 may not discriminate based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.

Restroom Access Policies

The OFCCP clarified how employers must approach restroom access under the new protections. OFCCP explained that employers must allow employees to use restrooms based upon their gender identity. This means that if an employee was identified as a male at birth, but identifies as a female, the employer must permit that employee to use the female restroom if the employee desires to do so.

Benefits

The new protections provide that the same benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses as non-same-sex spouses. However, employers are not required to provide the same benefits to couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships as long as the denial of benefits is not based on discrimination. Consequently, if a contractor provides heterosexual domestic partners with benefits, it must provide homosexual domestic partners with the same benefits.

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Will Religiously Based Federal Contractors Challenge OFCCP's New LGBT Regulations?

Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan logo

As 2014 headed toward close, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) gave the federal contractor community, already presented with five Executive Orders in 2014, one last compliance gift. On December 9, 2014, without notice or an opportunity for public comment, OFCCP issued its final rule (“Rule”) implementing Executive Order (“EO”) 13672. President Obama signed EO 13672 on July 14, 2014, extending protections against workplace discrimination to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) community by amending Executive Order 11246 to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. It also requires contractor employers to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants and employees are treated without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity during their employment. The Executive Order was effective immediately. The Rule is effective April 8, 2015, and applies to all new or modified federal contracts and subcontracts after that date.

The issuance of EO 13672 and the requirements of its implementing Rule highlight OFCCP’s intention to focus on LGBT protections and might be seen as steps to squarely tee up the issue of enforcement of LGBT protections in the post-Hobby Lobby era. First, and seemingly to leave no doubt of its intention, OFCCP had also issued Directive 2014-02 in August 2014, with its stated purpose, “[t]o clarify that existing agency guidance on discrimination on the basis of sex under Executive Order 11246, as amended, includes discrimination on the bases of gender identity and transgender status.” The directive explicitly piggybacked off of the EEOC’s 2012 decision in Macy v. Holder, where the EEOC concluded that gender identity and transgender status did not need to be specifically addressed in Title VII in order to be protected bases of discrimination, as they are simply part of the protected category of “sex” under Title VII. Anticipating the question of why EO 13672 was then necessary if already protected under Title VII, OFCCP offered a questionable explanation that the directive “does not address gender identity as a stand-alone protected category, which (along with sexual orientation) is the subject of Executive Order 13672.”

Second, as written, the Rule is relatively straightforward. It amends EO 11246’s implementing regulations by replacing the phrase “sex or national origin” with the phrase “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin” wherever the former appears in the regulations.  The Rule also places the following obligations on employers:

  1. Ensure that applicants and employees are not discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  2. Update existing affirmative action plans and all equal opportunity, harassment, and nondiscrimination policies to reflect the additional protected categories.

  3. Make available to applicants and employees a revised version of the “EEO is the Law” poster that includes a notice regarding the protections for LGBT workers.

  4. Include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected traits in the equal opportunity job solicitation taglines. (OFCCP suggested in the Rule preamble that “equal opportunity employer” may be sufficient to cover all protected categories of EO 11246.)

  5. Incorporate the new categories into new or modified subcontracts and purchase orders.

  6. Report to OFCCP and the Department of State any suspicion that it cannot obtain a visa for an employee, from another country with which it does business, due to the employee’s sexual orientation.

  7. Ensure that facilities (e.g., restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing areas) provided for employees are not segregated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Rule does not burden contractor employers with the same data collection and analysis obligations that are required with respect to females and minorities and does not require contractor employers to set placement goals on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require them to collect or analyze any data with respect to the sexual orientation or gender identity of their applicants or employees. Contractor employers are also not required to, or prohibited from, soliciting applicants or employees to self-identify regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Finally, it is notable that EO 13672 and its implementing Rule were issued despite the growing number of states (currently 20 states plus the District of Columbia) that have implemented protections against sexual orientation and/or gender identity discrimination. And further, that they are set within the larger context of the legalization of same sex marriage by, as of this article, 37 states, as well as the US Supreme Court’s consideration of the status of same sex marriage this year. Thus, the issue brought to focus by these OFCCP actions and the Executive Order may be more pointed than an identification of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected traits and may go towards whether a religious contractor employer may base employment decisions on the LGBT status of an applicant or employee.

EO 13672 contains no exemption for religiously affiliated federal contractors. Section 204(c) of EO 11246, which allows a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society, to base employment decisions on the religious membership of a particular individual (rather than on the beliefs of the organization), was specifically not amended by EO 13672. Possibly by design, this may result in a test of the reach of the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which, broadly speaking, allowed a closely-held, for-profit corporation to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate based upon its owners’ religious objection because it found that there was a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest.

A similar legal challenge may play out in the arena of employee benefits governed by EO 13672. OFCCP enforcement of the new Rule’s nondiscrimination prohibitions would bring within OFCCP’s purview the provision of benefits to an employee’s same sex spouse. Title VII and Supreme Court precedent require employers to make available the same benefits for spouses regardless of the gender of the employee. Closely-held contractor employers who oppose same sex marriage as a violation of religious belief may object to this requirement’s enforcement as a burden on their religious beliefs, similar to the arguments made by Hobby Lobby. While the Hobby Lobby majority attempted to dismiss the idea that its decision might allow an employer to “cloak as religious practice” prohibited acts, such as racial discrimination in hiring, the reach of the Hobby Lobby decision is far from settled, and the next batch of cases may seek to extend that decision to regulations requiring equal benefits based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.

And, lest employers think that the OFCCP was done, just today it announced that on January 30, 2015, it will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update contractors’ obligations to not discriminate on the basis of sex under EO 11246 to “reflect present-day workplace realities and align OFCCP’s rules with current law under Title VII.” The new rules will touch on “compensation discrimination, sexual harassment, failure to provide workplace accommodations for pregnancy, and gender identity and family caregiver discrimination, among other topics.” The regulatory landscape for federal contractors saw many changes in 2014, and it seems 2015 is shaping up to be no different.

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Executive Order Extends Workplace Anti-Discrimination Protections to LGBT Workers of Federal Contractors

Jackson Lewis Law firm

Though it took longer than expected, President Barack Obama has signed an Executive Order extending protections against workplace discrimination to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) community. Signed July 21, 2014, the Executive Order prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, adding to the list of protected categories. It does not contain any exemptions for religiously affiliated federal contractors, as some had hoped. Religiously affiliated federal contractors still may favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions.

The President directed the Secretary of Labor to prepare regulations within 90 days (by October 19, 2014) implementing the new requirements as they relate to federal contractors under Executive Order 11246, which requires covered government contractors and subcontractors to undertake affirmative action to ensure that equal employment opportunity is afforded in all aspects of their employment processes. Executive Order 11246 is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The Executive Order will apply to federal contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the forthcoming regulations. OFCCP likely will be charged with enforcement authority.

We recommend that employers who will be impacted by this Executive Order review their equal employment opportunity and harassment policies for compliance with the Executive Order. For example, employers who are government contractors should add both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under these policies and ensure that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that discrimination is not tolerated against LGBT employees.

We will provide additional information and insights into the proposed regulations when they are available.

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