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Common sense on the Equal Employment Opportunity agenda

  • Author: Craig Leen
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 30
  • Published September 1

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On this 125th Labor Day, we are reminded that the American Dream includes the ability to work hard for a living and advance on merit without unlawful discrimination. The United States Department of Labor includes the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which is the federal agency entrusted with ensuring that federal contractors and subcontractors — companies receiving federal dollars to provide goods and services — do not discriminate in employment practices. We respect the dignity of American workers and make sure federal contractors do too.

OFCCP enforces three sources of equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination legal authorities:

Executive Order (“EO”) 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (“VEVRAA”). These legal authorities also reinforce the importance of the dignity of work to all of our fellow citizens.

Collectively, these legal authorities prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against employees, and applicants for employment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. EO 11246 also prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from, under certain circumstances, taking adverse employment actions against applicants and employees for asking about, discussing, or sharing information about their pay or the pay of their co-workers.

During the Trump administration, OFCCP has successfully advanced equal employment opportunity through a commitment to four principles: transparency, certainty, efficiency, and recognition. These principles support OFCCP in working with federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure full compliance with the civil rights laws, while at the same time requiring contractors in violation of the law to remedy and correct the violation.

The combination of proactive compliance assistance and effective enforcement works hand in hand. Indeed, in the first two years of the present administration, OFCCP has recovered more than double the amount of back pay for hard-working Americans than in the prior two years. It is the highest two year collection amount in the history of the agency.

OFCCP has achieved this by working with the vast majority of contractors and subcontractors who seek to fully comply with the civil rights laws, and focusing resources on enforcement of claims as to those contractors that are not following the law. OFCCP carries out much of its work through neutrally scheduled compliance evaluations, complaint investigations, and proactive compliance assistance and education to contractors.

There have been a number of compliance assistance initiatives to assist contractors and workers, including the new Contractor Assistance Portal, Ombudsman, and Early Resolution Procedures Program. The Contractor Assistance Portal acts as a help desk and the Early Resolution Procedures Program helps to resolve cases more efficiently.

The Trump Administration is having an impact by bringing commonsense to regulation. Currently, there is a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) open for public comment that focuses on aligning current law and the civil rights of religious organizations involved in federal contracting. We encourage the public to review the NPRM and offer comments. Our regulatory agenda also includes consequential matters for important topics like veterans’ health care.

Another deregulatory item that has been recently launched is OFCCP has started the practice of issuing opinion letters. Opinion letters provide fact-specific guidance to employers and employees to provide more certainty and clarity about how OFCCP exercises its regulatory authority.

Additionally, OFCCP has reintroduced a category of audits that focuses on specific issues of concern, which are aptly called “focused reviews.” OFCCP’s new set of focused reviews, going on now, looks at equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities. OFCCP will soon be following up with focused reviews as to veteran and military spouse employment.

OFCCP’s approach with federal contractors and subcontractors seeking to get it right, and vigorous enforcement as to those who are getting it wrong, has resulted in great success for the agency in achieving its important mission. OFCCP is dedicated to achieving the mission of comprehensive and proactive compliance with civil rights requirements and the rule of law.

The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to preservation of the American Dream for people to have the ability to work hard for a living and advance on merit without unlawful discrimination.

Craig Leen is Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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