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OFCCP Director Leen to be Nominated for OPM Inspector General

In an unanticipated move, President Donald J. Trump announced on Monday, February 3, 2020 his intent to nominate Craig E. Leen as Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Leen has been Director of the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) since December of 2018. Leen came to OFCCP as a Senior Advisor in November of 2017 and became Acting Director of the agency in July of 2018, and was named as Director thereafter.

Prior to his work at OFCCP, Mr. Leen was the City Attorney of Coral Gables, Florida. This story is developing and FS will update as more information is available.

Report from the ABA/ Labor and Employment Meeting: Dir. Leen’s Plans for OFCCP Focused Reviews

OFCCP Director Craig Leen presented at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting of the Labor and Employment Section in New Orleans on November 8. Leen’s comments centered on 503 and VEVRAA focused reviews. That same day, OFCCP issued a second 2019 Corporate Scheduling Announcement Lists that included 500 VEVRAA focused reviews. Here are the key takeaways from Leen’s presentation:

  • 503 and VEVRAA focused reviews will include an analysis of “systemic” discrimination in promotions, terminations, and compensation. Leen stated that the agency will conduct regression analyses in order to ferret out such discrimination. Because most establishments do not employ a sufficient number of Individuals with Disabilities (IWDs) or protected veterans to conduct a statistical analysis, in all likelihood, an analysis of compensation or promotion practices will likely be based on individual comparators and anecdotal evidence. Leen also reported that all focused reviews, VEVRAA and 503, will include an on-site. He estimated the on-sites would last three to five days.
  • OFCCP plans to post on its website a list of the contractors who successfully completed a 503 or VEVRAA focused review without any adverse findings, as well as best practices identified in each review.
  • Leen urged attendees to review the list of 503 best practices posted on the agency’s website and considering implementing some or all of them. The 503 focused reviews will include an assessment of whether the contractor implemented any of the best practices. Leen also noted that OFCCP will be taking a hard look at the impact of assessments, particularly those using artificial intelligence, on IWDs and the basis for denying a requested accommodation. Leen asserted that virtually all requests should be granted since most accommodations cost less than $500. Finally, Leen wants to see an Accessibility Coordinator in every workplace.
  • Compliance officers conducting 503 focused reviews will ask for, at least, the following documentation:
    • Termination records
    • Personnel files
    • Flexible workplace polices
    • Response rate for self-identification surveys
    • Contractor’s efforts to increase self- id response rates
    • Job descriptions

Although Leen specifically referenced this list in connection with Section 503 focused reviews, this list could also apply to a VEVRAA review.

  • A revised version of the 503 self-identification form is pending approval with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The intent of the revisions is to make the form more welcoming to IWDs in an effort to increase response rates.
  • Leen’s comments focused primarily of compliance with Section 503. However, he did stress a new focus with respect to VEVRAA compliance – discrimination against military spouses. The VEVRAA regulations include a prohibition against associational discrimination similar to the Section 503 and the ADA. 41 CFR 60-300.21(e)

Leen also stated that contractors may implement hiring preferences for IWDs and Veterans. According to Leen, such programs are not discriminatory. This position appears to be contrary to the EEOC’s guidance on voluntary preferences. Before implementing such a hiring preference, please consult with counsel.

  • Finally, Leen announced that next year, OFCCP will launch additional types of focused reviews on disability accommodations and religious accommodations. Eventually, Leen also plans to implement compensation and promotion focused reviews.

For more information on preparing for or responding to a focused review, please contact your FortneyScott attorney or send us an e-mail with your questions.

OFCCP Issues Technical Assistance Guide for Educational Institutions

Today, OFCCP issued its long-anticipated Educational Institutions Technical Assistance Guide (“TAG”), designed to assist educational institutions with federal contracts “understand their obligations under the laws and regulations OFCCP enforces and to help them prepare for compliance evaluations.”

Acknowledging that educational institutions may face “unique challenges” in their compliance efforts, the TAG addresses a number of key issues, including:

  • Guidance for determining whether the institution should develop a single AAP (g., for the campus or the university) or multiple AAPs;
  • Clarification on when student employees should be included in, or excluded from, AAPs;
  • Methods for developing job groups for instructional and non-instructional employees;
  • Best practices for developing action-oriented programs;
  • Discussion of how OFCCP will review promotion data; and
  • Overview of OFCCP’s compensation analysis methodology.

While the TAG is useful, educational institutions must identify any content that goes beyond the regulatory requirements of Executive Order 11246, Section 503, and VEVRAA. OFCCP, as a matter of law, only can enforce the regulatory requirements, and the Agency cannot enforce any expanded obligations included in the TAG.

FortneyScott will provide a more in-depth analysis of the TAG for clients prior to the October 23, 2019 Town Hall OFCCP is holding for educational institutions.

For more information on the TAG or how educational institutions should respond to OFCCP compliance review, please contact your FortneyScott attorney or send us an e-mail with your question.

OFCCP Issues FAQs for “Campus-Like Settings”

The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) provided guidance on how an “establishment” should be determined in a campus-like setting, such as a higher education institution or an office park.

Understanding what constitutes an “establishment” is the cornerstone of federal contractors’ EEO and affirmative action compliance obligations. Federal contractors, generally, are required to develop Affirmative Action Plans (“AAPs”) for each “establishment.” AAPs are proactive tools that monitor most personnel activity (e.g., hiring, promotions, compensation and terminations) to determine areas of potential discrimination and areas in which additional diversity efforts need to be focused. OFCCP conducts compliance evaluations and related enforcement activity based on individual “establishments” by reviewing the AAP and related supporting materials. When multiple buildings in a campus-like setting are combined in a single AAP, contractors risk including a larger number of dissimilar employees into a single AAP. This could reduce the effectiveness of the proactive analyses as well as create additional challenges during OFCCP audits.

Key Takeaways: Federal contractors with campus-like settings, including clustered office buildings and higher education campuses, should evaluate whether their AAP structures comport with the factors included in OFCCP’s guidance to minimize the risk of a challenge to the AAP structure and coverage by OFCCP. In particular, higher education federal contractors need to carefully evaluate whether to use a campus-wide approach for developing an AAP, or whether grouping buildings by departments or other related organizational units or functions is appropriate for AAPs. The development of AAPs is a critical component in a federal contractor’s compliance strategy, and federal contractors should secure legal advice on how their AAPs should be structured based on their specific facts and with appropriate consideration of OFCCP’s new guidance.

Additional Information for Higher Education Federal Contractors: OFCCP, in particular, focuses on assessing compliance by higher education federal contractors which began during the Obama Administration. Many reviews of the higher education contractors still are pending. Why? Because OFCCP and the higher education community cannot agree on a fundamental compliance point – the definition of an “establishment.”

“Establishment” is not defined in OFCCP’s regulations. Case law, OFCCP’s compliance manual, trial testimony of a Regional Director, and the agency’s long-standing practice, however, define an “establishment” as a brick and mortar building. Curiously, OFCCP has repeatedly, but not consistently, taken a different position when it comes to higher education contractors. According to OFCCP practice, typically an “establishment” in the context of a college or university is the entire campus.

Last Spring, OFCCP Director Craig Leen promised to issue technical assistance guidance (TAG) for colleges and universities covering a range of issues, including the scope of a higher education AAP. It appears, OFCCP has abandoned – or at least delayed – its promise of a comprehensive TAG in favor of FAQs for Campus-Like Settings generally. These FAQs apply more broadly than just higher education. The FAQs apply to any contractor with multiple buildings in a campus-type setting.

While the sub-regulatory guidance provided in the FAQs is generally phrased in the permissive – “OFCCP may consider” or “Contractors may determine,” the guidance sets forth several factors contractors “should” consider when determining whether multiple buildings “should” be in a single AAP (FAQ 4). Such factors include:

  • What is the function of the building, and how do the employees in the building interact with employees in other buildings?
  • Are employees across different buildings part of the same organizational unit, such as department, division, section, branch, group, job family, or project team?
  • Are the hiring, compensation, and other personnel decisions handled separately at each building or are those functions consolidated across the entire contractor or across multiple buildings on one campus?
  • Does each building handle its own recruitment or is that function consolidated across multiple buildings?
  • Do the buildings recruit from the same labor market or recruiting area?
  • To what extent are other human resources and Equal Employment Opportunity compliance functions operationally distinct for each building or group of buildings?
  • To what extent do certain employees perform work functions across various buildings?

OFCCP does not cite to any authority, legal or otherwise, to support these factors or the definition of an “establishment” as a group of buildings located in the same area. These FAQs are sub-regulatory guidance and, as such, it does not bind the contractor community or OFCCP. The structure and scope of an AAP is a critically important compliance decision. Contractors should certainly consider the various options available for structuring their AAPs – grouping multiple buildings in a single AAP per these FAQs; an AAP per building based on OFCCP’s long standing practice; or a Functional AAP per the regulations (41 CFR 60-2.1(d)(4)).  Specifically, in our experience involving higher education institutions, there have been limited instances in which OFCCP has accepted AAPs based on sub-campus groupings by departments or functions. OFCCP, however, generally expects that a single, campus-wide AAP will be prepared for colleges and universities, notwithstanding the lack of specific legal authority compelling such an AAP structure.

Please contact your FortneyScott attorney or email us at info@fortneyscott.com for more information about how the new OFCCP guidance applies to your AAP design and related matters.

 

Breaking OFCCP News

Directive (DIR) 2018-08 addresses transparency by the OFCCP in all stages of compliance activities to help contractors comply with their obligations and understand their expectations during a compliance evaluation. The Directive instructs OFCCP staff, from the regional level to the national office, to take measures to be as transparent as possible during each stage of the evaluations, beginning with the scheduling and ending with the conciliation efforts.  For a copy of this Directive, click here.

Directive (DIR) 2018-09 reveals a plan to implement an Ombud Service in the OFCCP’s national office to facilitate the “fair and equitable resolution” of specific types of concerns raised by external stakeholders, which would include federal contractors and subcontractors and law firms. This plan stems from feedback received by the various stakeholders during the past year and is an effort by the OFCCP to increase transparency and improve communication. For a copy of this Directive, click here.

OFCCP Issues CSALs & New Extension Requirements

On September 7, 2018, OFCCP announced that it mailed 750 new Corporate Scheduling Announcement Letters (“CSALs”) to federal contractors as a supplement to the Fiscal Year 2018 Scheduling List released on March 19, 2018.  The agency stated that the CSALs are a “45-day” courtesy notice prior to sending the OMB-approved scheduling letters. Once the scheduling letters are received, contractors will have 30 days in which to submit their Affirmative Action Plans (AAPs) and the other items required by the scheduling letter and itemized listing. Therefore, according to OFCCP, “all contractors on the current list are receiving a minimum of 75 days advance notice to have their AAPs ready.”

In a change outlined in an FAQ entitled “Requesting Extensions to Submit AAP(s) and Supporting Data,”

OFCCP reinforced that contractors are obligated to submit their EO 11246, VEVRAA and Section 503 AAPs and supporting data within 30 days of the receipt of the Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing.  In order to facilitate a timely submission, the assigned compliance officer will contact the contractor within 15 days of the contractor’s receipt of the Scheduling Letter to offer technical assistance and explain allowable extensions for the AAPs and supporting data.

With respect to allowable extensions, OFCCP will grant a one-time 30-day extension for supporting data related to the EO 11246, VEVRAA and Section 503 AAPs, provided the contractor:

  1. Requests the extension prior to the initial 30-day due date for the AAPs; and
  2. Timely submits the basic EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA AAPs within the 30-day period after receiving the Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing.

The FAQ makes clear that OFCCP will generally not allow extensions for the submission of EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA AAPs, or allow extensions for supporting data if requested after the submission date for the AAPs has passed although it reserves discretion to grant such extensions in extraordinary circumstances.  Failure to submit AAPs and/or supporting data timely, with approved extensions, will result in an immediate Show Cause Notice.

In a separate release, the OFCCP provided an updated version of its Methodology for Developing the Supplement to the FY 2018 Supply & Service Scheduling List.

Please contact your FortneyScott attorney or send an email to info@fortneyscott.com for more information on this new extension policy or for assistance in preparing AAPs and responses to Scheduling Letters.

OFCCP Issues New Compensation, Recognition and Certification Directives

On August 24, 2018, OFCCP issued three new Directives, the most important of which rescinded the Obama Administration’s Directive 307, “Procedures for Reviewing Contractor Compensation Systems and Practices.”  The agency also issued Directives creating a program to certify that contractors have prepared an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) and are in compliance with federal affirmative action program requirements, and an initiative establishing a recognition program for contractors with high-quality and high-performing compliance programs and initiatives.

According to the agency, these Directives are part of the Department’s efforts to maximize the effectiveness of compliance assistance outreach.

  • Clear Guidance for Contractor Compensation Practices:  The new Compensation Directive, Directive 2018-05, rescinds Directive 307 (which had been renamed as 2013-03). Principally, the agency’s compensation analysis will now “mirror a contractor’s compensation system” when the contractor provides sufficient information.  The Directive provides transparency to contractors on OFCCP’s approach to conducting compensation evaluations by further outlining the agency’s practices and approaches to similarly-situated employees, creating pay analysis groups, conducting statistical analysis and modeling, and other analytical matters relevant to conducting sound, compensation compliance evaluations and contractors’ self-audits. The Directive also emphasizes that where OFCCP “believes there are indicators of disparate impact in compensation, it will work collaboratively with the contractor to understand any defense that a policy or practice that caused the disparate impact is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and will fully consider supporting evidence the contractor provides.”  The Directive takes effect for “all reviews scheduled on or after August 24, 2018 and they apply to open reviews to the extent they do not conflict with OFCCP guidance or procedures existing prior to the effective date.”  Directive 2018-05 specifically outlines when information provided to OFCCP will be released as there have been some unauthorized releases of information about ongoing audits.  Specifically, Paragraph 8 states “OFCCP does not release data obtained during the course of a compliance evaluation until the investigation and all subsequent proceedings, if any, are complete.”
  • Affirmative Action Program Verification Initiative: Directive 2018-07 implements a verification process with the objective of ensuring that all covered federal contractors are meeting the most basic equal employment opportunity (EEO) regulatory requirement, namely, the preparation of a written AAP and annual updates to that program.
  • Contractor Recognition ProgramsDirective 2018-06 is re-establishing its contractor recognition program that will now include awards that highlight implementable best or model contractor practices, a contractor mentoring program that uses contractors to help their peers improve compliance, and other initiatives that provide opportunities for contractors to collaborate or provide feedback to OFCCP on its compliance assistance efforts.

The team at FortneyScott is reviewing these Directives in detail and determining what impact these new policies will have on federal contractor compliance and, more importantly, what next steps contractors should take to ensure compliance with the three new directives. Please contact your FortneyScott attorney or send an email to info@fortneyscott.com for more information.

OFCCP Issues Two New Directives Addressing Religious Freedom Protections and Announcing New Focused Reviews

On August 10, 2018, OFCCP’s Acting Director Craig Leen issued two new policy directives aimed at protecting Americans’ religious freedom and announcing new focused reviews. The directives call for protecting the rights of religion-exercising organizations and individuals and more comprehensive reviews of contractor compliance, respectively.

Directive (DIR) 2018-03 instructs OFCCP staff to take into account recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and White House Executive Orders that protect religious freedom and afford broad anti-discrimination protections to religion-exercising organizations and individuals under the United States Constitution and federal law. The Directive incorporates recent developments in the law regarding religion-exercising organizations and individuals. OFCCP staff are instructed to take these legal developments addressing religious freedoms into account in all their relevant activities, including when providing compliance assistance, processing complaints, and enforcing the requirements of E.O. 11246. For a copy of this Directive, please click here.

Directive (DIR) 2018-04 provides that the OFCCP will conduct focused reviews of contractor compliance with (1) Executive Order 11246, (2) Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503), and (3) the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). To ensure compliance, OFCCP will conduct the focused reviews by going onsite and performing a comprehensive review of the particular authority at issue. For example, if it is a Section 503 focused review, the compliance officer would review policies and practices of the contractor solely related to Section 503 compliance. The review would include interviews with employees affected by the policies, as well as those responsible for equal employment opportunity and compliance. OFCCP would also look to evaluate hiring and compensation data. This type of review would be used in each of the three types of focused reviews to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination obligations and equal employment opportunity. For a copy of this Directive, please click here.

The OFCCP’s News Release can be found here. The team at FortneyScott is reviewing these directives in detail and determining what impact these new policies will have on federal contractor compliance and, more importantly, what next steps contractors should take to ensure compliance with the two new directives. Please contact your FortneyScott attorney or send an email to info@fortneyscott.com for more information.

OFCCP Director Ondray Harris Leaves – What to Expect from OFCCP Next?

As July was coming to an end, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Ondray Harris would leave his role as OFCCP Director, effective July 27.  Thereafter, Deputy Director, Craig Leen, was appointed the Acting Director of OFCCP.  The news came a week before federal contractors and OFCCP representatives gathered in Anaheim, California at the 2018 Industry Liaison Group National Conference. Acting Director Leen took center stage and was the lead spokesperson for the agency at the National ILG Conference.

Acting Director Leen opened the Conference by outlining the agency’s four areas of focus: Transparency, Certainty, Efficiency, and Recognition.  He provided some detail with respect to these general areas.  Leen also discussed his commitment to affirmative action generally.  However, as a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities, he announced that in 2019, the agency will begin conducting focused reviews of contractors’ compliance with Section 503’s affirmative action requirements.  Leen also discussed the contractor’s “Bill of Rights,” which OFCCP issued on August 1.  The Bill of Rights constitutes a significant change in the agency’s stance toward contractors, giving substance to prior promises of greater transparency and consistency and signals an end to the OFCCP’s adversarial approach to compliance evaluations.  Additionally, Leen confirmed that pay equity remains a focus of the agency, announced that OFCCP is in the process of implementing an annual AAP certification, and is considering re-instituting a contractor award program.  Finally, Leen committed to moving compliance reviews more quickly.

Stay tuned for more FortneyScott updates, specifically with regard to official confirmation of a new OFCCP Director, and any further updates on the direction the agency will take moving forward.