As some agencies start to reenter office spaces, lawmakers are raising concerns about return-to-office plans for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-Va.), ranking member on the Committee on Education and Labor, and James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member on the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the lag on reentry would delay the commission’s ability to efficiently review and resolve discrimination charges.
“We are unaware of any plan for the commission to return the remainder of its workforce of approximately 2,000 employees to in-person service,” the authors said in a letter to EEOC Commissioner Charlotte Burrows.
The EEOC plans to return senior leaders to in-person offices starting on March 28. Other supervisors and managers will begin their return on April 4 and non-bargaining groups will start the process on April 11.
That leaves approximately 2,000 commission employees without an exact answer on their own reentry timeline. The EEOC said in a statement to Federal News Network that those workers will receive at least 30 days’ prior notice of their expected return dates.
The letter highlighted concerns about the impact of large-scale remote work on the EEOC’s capacity to effectively deliver on its mission.
“We are concerned the commission is not meeting its obligations to workers,” the authors of the letter said.
The EEOC said that it has online resources available to support applicants, workers and employers. The agency has operated remotely throughout the pandemic to continue serving the public.
The EEOC said it has received the letter and is in the process of reviewing it.
“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,” the EEOC said in a statement. “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.”
“Unfortunately, there still appears to be a disagreement between the commission and the AFGE,” the letter’s authors said.
A spokesperson from AFGE said in an email to Federal News Network that the organization is working with the EEOC to lay out further reopening plans, but will still include telework and remote options for employees.
“EEOC employees are always eager to meet the needs of the public, as they have done throughout the pandemic,” AFGE said in a statement. “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.”
The EEOC confirmed that it will continue working with AFGE on return to office plans. These negotiations have continued since November.
“The EEOC sees the union as an important partner in ensuring a successful reentry to EEOC’s physical offices and is committed to fulfilling all of its responsibilities with respect to collective bargaining,” the statement said.
In their letter, Foxx and Comer requested the commission immediately reopen all offices and bring employees back to in-person office spaces.
The authors also asked for details on the complications to returning to the office that stem from unfair labor practice complaints against the EEOC. They requested further guidance on return-to-office timetables, explanation of delays to reopening and the impact of closed workspaces on the agency’s mission.