The Federal Labor Relations Authority has alleged the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission unfairly recalled its workers to on-site work amid the coronavirus pandemic, the employees’ union announced August 3.
EEOC allegedly ordered employees back to its offices on May 16 “without first completing a reentry agreement with the union, which is a violation of the Federal Service Labor-Relations Management Statute,” the union, the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.
The government’s charge — which stemmed from a complaint from the union — alleged EEOC had a duty to engage in collective bargaining with respect to the change. An administrative law judge will hear the allegations early next year, according to the agency charge.
“It is critical that the agency negotiate with the union on these subjects before reintroducing in-person service options,” AFGE Council 216 President Rachel Shonfield said in the news release. “Intake rooms are the size of telephone booths, and in-person mediations involve groups congregating for hours in conference rooms. Adaptations must be made to account for the continuing presence of COVID.”
Positive COVID-19 cases have been reported in many EEOC offices, the union said, adding that commission employees have been working remotely with great success.
The union also said the recall to in-office work affected retention at the agency: “EEOC’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach insists on staff working in the office even on days when they do not have public-facing duties. In turn, employees are voting with their feet and leaving for agencies offering remote work. This will exacerbate the EEOC’s chronic understaffing and result in the public waiting even longer for help with their discrimination complaints.”
EEOC told HR Dive it is reviewing the allegations and “is strongly committed to good faith bargaining regarding the impact and implementation of reentry following the unprecedented maximum telework period instituted government-wide as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It also reported some telework limitations, saying an on-site presence helps the agency serve the country’s workforce, “including the most vulnerable workers, many of whom may have difficulty reaching us virtually.”