Unintended Side Effects of the Government Shutdown
January 8, 2019 by Lincoln Derr
It’s not just the airport and national parks feeling the effects of the weeks’ long government shutdown. Nine federal departments and several agencies shut down on December 22, 2018. Several employee/HR-facing federal agencies are closed or operating at a severely reduced capacity. With the government shutdown grinding on with no end in sight, what does this mean for employers and employees? Here’s the run-down:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is closed – literally. From the EEOC website (www.eeoc.gov):
“EEOC” ACTIVITIES THAT WILL NOT OCCUR DURING SHUTDOWN:
1. Staff will not be available to answer questions from the public or to respond to correspondence from the public.
2. While we will accept charges that must be filed in order to preserve the rights of a claimant during a shutdown, these charges will not be investigated.
3. Insofar as the courts grant EEOC’s requests for extensions of time, EEOC will not litigate in the federal courts.
4. Mediations will be canceled.
5. Federal sector hearings will be canceled, and federal employees’ appeals of discrimination complaints will not be decided.
6. Outreach and education events will be canceled.
7. No FOIA requests will be processed.”
A limited number of services will still be available during the shutdown. The EEOC is still accepting Pre-Charge Inquiries because the time limits within which to file a Charge of Discrimination won’t be extended due to the shutdown. The EEOC also has a contingency plan for those aggrieved employees who have filing deadlines coming up within the next 30 days.
The federal court system is quickly coming to the end of its post-shutdown operations. Federal courts have continued to operate since December 22, 2018 by dipping into money received as fees and other sources, but that pot of money will run out on Friday, January 11th. If the shutdown continues beyond that – as it’s looking like it will – nonessential workers at the federal district and appeals courts across the country will be asked to stay home or to work without pay to handle matters deemed “essential” under U.S. law. Federal criminal cases are likely to continue to move – albeit potentially more slowly – forward, but civil litigation will likely see a significant slowdown or stop altogether.
Not every part of the government ceased operations on December 22nd. The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Labor remain open for business. That means agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), Office of Administrative Law Judges (“OALJ”), Veterans’ Employment & Training Services (“VETS”), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”), and the Department of Labor – Wage & Hour Division remain open for business.
If your company has a matter pending before any federal agency or in federal court, you should check with the agency or court to determine what your company’s obligations are during the shutdown.
Employment law is one of the most rapidly changing areas of law, so pull out that employee handbook and make sure that your policies comply with the most current federal, state, and local laws. Lincoln Derr can help lead you through the process.