The longest federal shutdown in U.S. history is having devastating effects, placing hundreds of thousands of federal workers in economic peril and potentially crippling the delivery of basic services for Native American tribes.
It has also shut down the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), delaying Americans from receiving justice where their employers have illegally discriminated or retaliated against them. Eighty-four percent of EEOC employees have been furloughed, including its administrative judges, and all of their cases have been put on hold. No one is available at the EEOC to pick up the phone and answer questions. Even the EEOC’s online Public Portal is not operating. With each day that the shutdown extends, the backlog at the EEOC will continue to grow.
The shutdown was an unfortunate cap to the EEOC’s 2018, during which the number of sexual harassment suits the EEOC filed jumped by more than 50% year-over-year and the agency substantially reduced its backlog.
This EEOC shutdown has a real effect on people’s lives. When the EEOC can’t mediate cases, it can’t resolve them. When it can’t investigate claims, it can’t hold wrongdoers accountable. When the EEOC can’t pursue lawsuits, it leaves employees who have been wronged in limbo. And when Americans can’t get compensation when they have been wrongfully terminated, they may not be able to support their families.
Now, more than ever, it is important to contact an employment lawyer if you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of your race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
Just because the EEOC is closed does not mean you have extra time to file your claims: the EEOC says that its time limits may not be extended because of the shutdown. In most states, you must file a charge within 300 days of the incident. In states where there is no state fair employment practice agency, like North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, the time limit is 180 days from the incident. While the shutdown continues, the EEOC recommends that you submit a Pre-Charge Inquiry by mail, drop-off, or fax, or send in a charge by hard-written letter.
In many cases, you may be able to push your claims forward even during the government shutdown. For example, if you work in New York City, you do not need to file with the EEOC or any other to pursue a claim under New York City Human Rights Law, which makes it illegal for your employer to treat you less well than other employees because of your gender or race. Other state and local laws offer similar protections.