During the opening remarks of the 2020 NILG Annual Conference – this year being held virtually as the NILG 2020 Webinar Series – OFCCP Director Craig Leen announced the Agency will initiate VEVRAA Focused Reviews in as little as two weeks.  Prefacing that the Agency will be giving consideration for the COVID-19 pandemic, Director Leen announced OFCCP will soon start sending out scheduling letters to those companies previously identified by the Agency in the VEVRAA Focused Review supplemental scheduling list.  As we previously reported, OFCCP recently received approval of its VEVRAA Focused Review Scheduling Letter.

As a reminder, OFCCP has published a number of Technical Assistance resources on its VEVRAA landing page to assist contractors prepare for these reviews.  During his remarks, Director Leen confirmed the VEVRAA Focused Reviews will include evaluation of contractors’ treatment of veteran spouses.  Additionally, according to OFCCP’s FAQs, the Agency will be conducting virtual on-site reviews as part of the VEVRAA Focused Review process.

We will continue to monitor this development and provide an update with any new information.

OFCCP has finalized its rule making to officially confirm the Agency does not, and should not, exert authority over TRICARE providers.  OFCCP first took this position in a proposed rule making in November 2019.  In the final rule, OFCCP concluded it does not have jurisdiction over healthcare providers based solely on TRICARE provider network agreements.  In addition, OFCCP instituted a national interest exemption for TRICARE providers.  This rule finally provides legal certainty and formal regulatory guidance to organizations that provide TRICARE services.

With that said, it is critical to understand that both the proposed and final rule make it clear that

OFCCP will retain authority over a health care provider participating in such a network arrangement if the health care provider holds a separate covered Federal contract or subcontract.

Notably, OFCCP’s Final Rule does not affect its jurisdiction over healthcare providers participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), or Veterans Administration health benefit provider (VAHBP) agreements.  Thus, while the Final Rule does not affect jurisdiction in these areas, OFCCP states in the Final Rule that it

will consider additional subregulatory guidance as necessary to provide certainty and clarity

to the status of FEHBP and VAHBP providers.

For now, at least, this story seems to have finally reached a conclusion.

So, it has begun.  The confirmation process for now OFCCP Director Craig Leen‘s move out of OFCCP and into the Inspector General of Office of Personnel Management initiated with a hearing before the full committee of the Department of Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.  In an unexpected turn of events, Director Leen was nominated by President Donald Trump for the Inspector General position earlier this year.

While the confirmation process will need to play out, and the timing is still unknown, this is certainly the first step towards Director Leen’s exit from OFCCP.

There has been no formal announcement of a potential replacement or identification of who might assume an Acting Director role after Director Leen leaves the agency.

Stay tuned for future developments.

OFCCP announced today it has received approval of a modified Self-Identification form for individuals with disabilities.  One of the biggest changes is the form is now one page, instead of two.

OFCCP requested approval of the modified form from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year.

With this approval, OFCCP is giving contractors until August 4, 2020 to implement use of the new form in its applicant tracking and employee processes. The Agency has posted an update to their Frequently Asked Questions to assist with implementation.

As a reminder, contractors are required to solicit the voluntary self-identification of disability (and veteran) status of individuals at the application AND post-offer stages.  Employers must also re-survey their incumbent populations at least once every 5 years.

EEOC has announced there will be no EEO-1 reporting obligation in 2020.

In a press release, EEOC acknowledged it

will delay the anticipated opening of the 2019 EEO-1 Component 1 data collection and the 2020 EEO-3 and EEO-5 data collections because of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency.

The announcement stated that

[p]ending approval from the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) the EEOC would expect to begin collecting the 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 Component 1 in March 2021 and will notify filers of the precise date the surveys will open as soon as it is available.

Stay tuned for additional updates.

As anticipated, but with little fanfare, OFCCP has published a VEVRAA Focused Review landing page.  Much like the page it created for Section 503 Individuals with Disabilities Focused Reviews, the Agency’s veterans technical assistance page provides FAQs and Best Practices.

With the recent approval of the VEVRAA Scheduling Letter and the release of this technical assistance we can likely anticipate OFCCP will in the near future start initiating the VEVRAA Focused Reviews from the November 2019 CSAL list.  Although the Agency continues to work through the March 2019 CSAL, including Section 503 focused reviews, it is now poised to begin sending VEVRAA focused review scheduling letters.

Important things to note from the FAQs:

  • Contrary to information we had previously heard, all VEVRAA focused reviews on the supplemental scheduling list issued in November 2019 will include an on-site review. The FAQ notes OFCCP may or may not retain this requirement for future scheduling lists.
  • VEVRAA focused reviews will take place at contractors’ corporate headquarters and/or establishment locations.

As a reminder, OFCCP recently re-evaluated the veteran hiring benchmark. A contractor’s work towards this benchmark will undoubtedly be a part of the VEVRAA Focused reviews, as will the company’s compliance with the Agency’s veteran spouse directive.

We will continue to monitor the landing page and provide information as new updates are posted.

 

In the third of three new Directives (Directive (DIR) 2020-04), OFCCP has formalized and clarified the role of the Ombudsman in facilitating resolution of conflict between contractors and OFCCP.

The Ombuds Service Protocol, among other important clarifications to Directive (DIR) 2018–09, states:

The mission of the Ombuds Service is to offer an impartial and independent perspective to conflicts between external stakeholders and OFCCP, providing a neutral and, to the extent permitted by law, confidential resource while advocating for fair, efficient, and transparent policies and procedures.

Notably, the bolded terms above are in the original version of the Protocol.  OFCCP wants us to know that the Ombuds Service is not simply another arm of OFCCP’s enforcement mechanism.

Consistent with many of Director Craig Leen’s other initiatives, the Ombuds Service is a direct response to prior criticisms that stakeholders did not trust the Agency to provide assistance without making them “a target for future OFCCP enforcement actions, such as compliance evaluations.”

The Protocol is comprehensive.  It provides an Ombuds Service Overview, including goals for the Service; specific Standards of Practice, including the meaning and limits of the principles of confidentiality, neutrality and independence; and, Ombudsman Functions, including that the Ombudsman will not, “Advocate for any one individual or entity before, during, or after a particular dispute.”

The Protocol concludes by encouraging those “unsure about whether to contact the Ombuds Service” to reach out for more information.  “If unable to be of direct assistance, the ombudsman can direct you to the appropriate person, division of OFCCP, or agency within the Department of Labor.

Marcus Stergio is the current OFCCP Ombudsperson.  There are three ways to contact him:

Under the Protocol, we believe the Ombuds Service promises to be a useful resource for contractors not only for resolving conflict, but also for better understanding OFCCP processes and procedures that the Agency may previously have been reluctant to share with contractors.

In the second of the three most recent OFCCP Directives, OFCCP has formalized a pre-referral mediation program “to provide the best opportunity for resolving matters before significant time and resources are spent in the enforcement process,” and prior to referring the case for enforcement to the Office of the Solicitor (SOL).

Directive (DIR) 2020-03 dictates or suggests the nuts and bolts for the mediation process:

  • The Program is available only where OFCCP has issued a Show Cause Notice (SCN) alleging discrimination, and exceptional circumstances do not warrant, in OFCCP’s discretion, moving directly to enforcement.
  • The contractor and OFCCP would each propose three mediators, who may be:  (1) from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) or other qualified federally approved mediators; (2) the OFCCP Ombudsman; or (3) any qualified individual.   The parties would each rank the six proposed mediators, with the highest ranked being selected.  In the event of a tie, the parties may agree on a mediator or refer mediator selection to the FMCS Director, who would select an FMCS mediator who was not on either of the parties’ list.
  • Mediation should begin within 30 days of the selection of the mediator.
  • OFCCP’s proposed process envisions the parties would together

develop mutually agreeable parameters for the structure of the mediation, including whether parts of the mediation will include joint and/or private sessions.

If the parties cannot agree on parameters, OFCCP may refer a case to the SOL without first attempting mediation.

  • The parties would exchange confidential position statements with each other and the mediator in advance of a mediation session, but could also provide submissions “for the mediator’s eyes only”.  The mediator would then first conduct private, telephonic pre-mediation sessions with each party “to answer questions and set expectations.”  The parties would agree to a mediation time frame, “which in most cases should not exceed two business days.”
  • The mediation would be conducted at a mutually-agreed-upon and neutral location, and all attendees would sign a confidentiality agreement.  OFCCP advises that the mediation should include key decision makers – at least by telephone – who should be available to provide guidance and expertise for the duration of the mediation.

While no contractor wants to find itself in this position, the Pre-Referral Mediation Program appears to offer contractors at least a more formalized opportunity to resolve allegations of discrimination with the assistance and objective input of a neutral mediator.

Stay tuned for additional blog posts as we learn more about the Program.

Under 41 CFR 60-300.45, OFCCP must publish the “national percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force” for contractors to use as a “hiring benchmark.”  OFCCP’s initial veteran hiring benchmark (in 2014) was 7.2% .   Every year since, this percentage of available veterans has decreased.   This year, the veteran hiring benchmark decreased againfrom 5.9% to 5.7%.

So, for contractors who elect not to calculate their own hiring benchmark, be sure to use the national percentage on your AAP plan year date:

  • Affirmative action plans dated before March 31, 2020 should continue to use the prior 5.9% veteran hiring benchmark.
  • Affirmative action plans dated March 31, 2020 or later should use the new 5.7% veteran hiring benchmark.

As OFCCP rolls out audits focused on VEVRAA compliance, contractors should expect the Agency to look closely at the organization’s benchmark and its hiring rates.

In case any of you have been wondering, OFCCP is not slowing down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the Agency has been thoughtful and reasonable in extending response times for audits and even granting a National Interest Exemption for new contractors helping respond to the pandemic, OFCCP continues to schedule new audits, now with newly approved revised scheduling letters, as well as issue new guidance.

And today is no exception as the agency announced the release of three new directives:

In Directive 2020-02, which becomes effective 4/17/2020, OFCCP has set a goal to complete audits within 180 days where there are no indicators of discrimination, or to issue a Pre-Determination Notice (PDN) within one year from the issuance of the scheduling letter where discrimination indicators exist.

As a caveat, these goals assume “the contractor fully cooperates with the compliance review, including timely submissions of all documents and records and providing prompt access to all interviewees and premises requested by OFCCP.”

The Directive notes OFCCP will monitor audit progress through its Compliance Management System (CMS), which will provide national leadership “detailed monthly reports” of audit progress.   From an operational perspective, the Directive requires Compliance Officers to provide contractors with a status update every 30 days.

While some contractors choose not to “poke the bear” when audits languish, the Directive also institutes a limited process for contractors to essentially complain about the length of an audit.  If a contractor “has generally provided all information requested by OFCCP,” the contractor has the option of first asking the Regional Director to address a delay where:

  • A compliance evaluation remains open for one year from the day the contractor received the scheduling letter, without the issuance of a PDN; or
  • A compliance evaluation remains open for two years and has not been referred to the Office of the Solicitor.

If the Regional Director does not resolve the delay, the contractor must “petition” the Director with a copy to the Ombudsman.  “The Ombudsman will then review the matter and report back findings to the Director, who will make a determination in consultation with the career Deputy Director, Director of Enforcement, and Regional Director as to how to proceed.”

We will bring you insights on the other directives in the coming days so, as always, stay tuned for more.