The federal government shutdown could have a serious impact on people experiencing discrimination and harassment in the workplace, particularly in areas handled by federal agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 18 percent of its total workforce will remain on the job during the shutdown, and even fewer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A mere 5 percent of EEOC workers -- 107 total -- will remain on hand, primarily to accept and process new discrimination claims. Claims by New Jersey workers under the Law Against Discrimination should not be affected.
The immediate impact of the shutdown will, of course, be problematic and inconvenient for people dealing with problems at work. In the longer term, the shutdown could delay the implementation of important projects, such as one recently announced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a division of the Labor Department that enforces anti-discrimination laws among federal contractors.
Recently, the OFCCP announced new rules intended to encourage federal contractors to actively seek out and hire people with disabilities and veterans. The new rules are part of an effort to contend with chronic unemployment and under-employment among these vulnerable groups. The agency planned to put them effect in March of next year -- just five months from now. With more than 80 percent of its workforce on furlough, however, the OFCCP may be facing major challenges in meeting that deadline.
According to the agency, households headed by people between the ages of 18 and 65 who have disabilities, on average, earn only 42 percent as much as similar households headed by those who do not. For veterans, unemployment remains high, and pay disparities exist for many veterans. The unemployment rate for vets who served after Sept. 2011 is still 2 percent higher than for comparable non-veterans.
"Employment discrimination and underutilization of qualified workers, such as individuals with disabilities and veterans, contribute to broader societal problems such as income inequality and poverty," the agency said in announcing changes to the two relevant rules.
The changes are meant to encourage federal contractors to minimize potentially discriminatory barriers to employment opportunities for vets and people with disabilities, and to engage in affirmative action programs directed at these groups. Specific affirmative action goals will be put in place, with tax credits for employers who meet them.
- Courthouse News Service, “Tune Up Made to Federal Contract Compliance,” Nick McCann, Sept. 26, 2013
- The Huffington Post, "Government Shutdown To Hit Labor Department Workplace Safety, EEOC Discrimination Investigations," Dave Jamieson, Sept. 30, 2013