OFCCP Publishes New FAQs on the Collection of Self-Identification Information for Protected Veterans

On January 20, 2015, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) published two Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing what self-identification information contractors are required to solicit from protected veterans during the post-offer stage of the application process.  Specifically, in light of the new VETS-4212 Form that does not require information on the specific protected veteran categories, OFCCP considered whether, contractors must continue to solicit information about the specific protected veteran category or categories that an applicant falls into during the post-offer stage, or whether contractors can more broadly invite applicants to self-identity as protected veterans.  OFCCP decided that contractors need not collect such category-specific data during the post-offer stage:

[S]ince the new VETS-4212 report no longer requires contractors to provide this information by the individual protected veteran categories, contractors are not required to invite self-identification by category in order to comply with VEVRAA’s post-offer invitation requirement.  Rather, contractors need only invite those offered a job to indicate whether they are protected veterans under any of the VEVRAA categories.

This marks a change from the previous post-offer requirement.  The underlying self-identification requirements come from OFCCP’s current regulations, issued on March 24, 2014, which require contractors to invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify their protected veteran status during both the pre-offer and post-offer stages of the application process.  For the pre-offer stage, contractors are not required to invite applicants to self-identify their specific protected veteran categories.  There is no change to this requirement. At the post offer stage, which includes the period after candidates receive offers of employment but before they began working, contractors were required to invite applicants to self-identify the specific category or categories of protected veteran to which they belong, which includes recently separated veterans, disabled veterans, Armed Forces service medal veterans, and active duty wartime or campaign badge veterans.

Until now, the reason for the category-specific data at the post-offer stage was needed to complete the Veterans Employment and Training Services (“VETS”) VETS-100A Form. However, in September 2014, after OFCCP’s veteran regulations had gone into effect, VETS released a new VETS-4212 Form to replace the VETS-100A form.  Under the new VETS-4212 form, contractors are only required to report aggregate data on the number of protected veterans rather than the specific categories of protected veterans.  On this basis, OFCCP reasoned in the new FAQs that contractors are no longer required to solicit information about the specific categories of protected veterans.

OFCCP, however, stated that contractors may still solicit such information.  In deciding whether to continue soliciting the specific protected veteran categories from applicants at the post-offer stage, contractors should weigh the value of this more detailed information with the burden of the additional recordkeeping and the risk of collecting information that is no longer required by OFCCP.

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Filed under Department of Labor, OFCCP, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Veterans

OFCCP Opens LGBT Final Rules to Limited Notice and Comment While Lawmakers Protest

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) is seeking limited public comment on the information collection requirements (“ICR”) of its Final Rule for LGBT workers amidst protests by members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the House of Representatives over its rulemaking process.  OFCCP had initially announced on December 3, 2014 its Final Rule implementing President Obama’s Executive Order 13672, which prohibits discrimination by federal government contractors and subcontractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On December 9, 2014, OFCCP filed a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on the ICR in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires OFCCP to invite public comment on the burdens and utility of any new information collection requests.  The deadline for comments on the ICR is February 6, 2015.  The Final Rule is slated to become effective on April 8, 2015.

Before the Final Rule was published, the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the House of Representatives, which oversees OFCCP, sent a letter to OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu protesting OFCCP not opening the Final Rule for public comment.  It is unclear at this point as to what if any impact this will have on OFCCP’s Final Rule.

What Is New in the Final Rule

Under the Final Rule, contractors are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The new regulations do not define “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”, but OFCCP notes that it uses the same definition used by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and case law developed under Title VII.   As of the effective date of the Final Rule, OFCCP will investigate complaints of discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Final Rule also requires contractors to update some of their technical compliance practices.  The Final Rule modified the Equal Opportunity Clause, which must be flowed-down in all covered subcontracts that are entered or modified on or after the effective date.  Contractors are still permitted to incorporate the Equal Opportunity Clause by reference.  The Final Rule also requires contractors to update their job postings and advertisements to indicate that all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity in addition to the normal protected categories of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, veteran status, and disability status.

What is Unaffected in the Final

The new regulations do not impact existing affirmative action plan requirements for females and minorities.  Contractors are not obligated to solicit information from applicants or employees pertaining to sexual orientation or gender identity, nor report or analyze such data for applicants and employees.  OFCCP’s Frequently Asked Questions specify that contractors may still choose to ask applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify their sexual identity or gender identity, unless prohibited by state law.

What Contractors Should Do

Contractors should proactively review and update their job postings, job advertisements, and policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Although the Final Rule does not go into effect until April 8, 2015, OFCCP noted that gender identity is already prohibited by OFCCP’s laws based on their August 2014 directive.  In addition, contractors who flow-down the entire Equal Opportunity Clause in covered subcontracts should update the clause to include the new language.

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Filed under Affirmative Action Plan (AAP), Department of Labor, OFCCP, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs

OFCCP Sends New Round of Potential Audit Letters

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) recently sent Corporate Scheduling Announcement Letters (“CSALs”) to 2,500 federal contractor establishments warning of possible audits.  OFCCP sends CSALs to contractors’ specific establishments as a courtesy to let contractors know that certain locations have been identified for potential audit.  CSALs do not mean that the contractor has been selected for an audit, but rather put contractors on notice that their establishments may be audited.  The audit does not actually begin until the contractor receives the Scheduling Letter from OFCCP.

Most OFCCP audits for supply and service contractor establishments are based on the Federal Contractor Selection System (“FCSS”). The FCSS generally releases names of contractors for audits two times per fiscal year.  This latest round of CSALs marks the first release of the FY 2015.  According to OFCCP’s FAQ, 993 distinct companies and 25 industries are represented among the 2,500 establishments on the FY 2015 scheduling list.  This list includes 27 Corporate Management Compliance Evaluations where OFCCP investigates glass ceiling issues.  Contractors can confirm whether one or more of their establishments were mailed CSALs by faxing a written request on company letterhead to OFCCP’s Division of Program Operations at (202) 693-1305.

Because contractors receiving CSALs are scheduled for audits in most cases, contractors receiving these notices should start to review their compliance and prepare for a potential audit as soon as possible. This is particularly important in light of OFCCP’s new Scheduling Letter, which drastically expanded the data required to be submitted to OFCCP at the outset of an audit.  You can learn more about the new Scheduling Letter here.

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Filed under CSAL, Department of Labor, OFCCP, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Scheduling Letter

OFCCP Releases New Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing

More than three years after the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) sought approval for a new Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing, OFCCP published a notice in the Federal Register on September 30, 2014 revealing that it had received Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval. Yesterday, OFCCP announced that it would not schedule any supply and service compliance evaluations from October 1, 2014 to October 15, 2014 to allow contractors to “become acquainted with the new letter and itemized listing”, but it plans to start using the new Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing for all audits scheduled after October 15, 2014.

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Filed under Affirmative Action Plan (AAP), Department of Labor, OFCCP, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Scheduling Letter

OFCCP Releases Proposed Rule Prohibiting Adverse Action Against Employees and Applicants Discussing Pay

On September 15, 2014, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) implementing President Obama’s Executive Order 13665 (“EO 13665”) banning contractors from taking adverse action against employees and applicants who discuss their pay.  When President Obama signed EO 13665 on April 8, 2014, he instructed OFCCP to issue a proposed rule prohibiting federal contractors from discharging or discriminating against employees or applicants who inquire about, discuss, or disclose their own compensation or compensation of other employees and applicants.  In a Fact Sheet on the Proposed Rule, OFCCP stated that the purpose of the Proposed Rule is to narrow the pay gap disadvantaging women and minorities by allowing them to discuss their pay and know if they are “being underpaid compared to [their] peers.”  OFCCP also believes the Proposed Rule would “reduc[e] pay discrimination and ensur[e] that qualified and productive employees receive fair compensation”, by enabling them to discuss their pay without fear of adverse action.

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Filed under Compensation, Department of Labor, Executive Order, OFCCP

OFCCP Releases Proposal Requiring Contractors to Disclose Compensation Data Annually

On August 6, 2014, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring federal contractors and subcontractors with 100 or more employees to submit an annual equal pay report. This compensation data tool was published in response to President Obama’s April 8, 2014 Presidential Memorandum calling for proposed regulations to be published within 120 days.

The equal pay report will have a significant impact on federal contractors. According to OFCCP, the equal pay report will “enable OFCCP to direct its enforcement resources toward federal contractors whose summary data suggests potential pay violations, while reducing the likelihood of reviewing companies that are less likely to be out of compliance.” The proposed rule was officially published in the Federal Register on August 8, 2014. There is a 90-day public comment period with comments due by November 6, 2014.

Who Must File

The proposed rule applies to prime contractors and first tier subcontractors (and construction subcontractors of any tier) who are required to file EEO-1 Reports, have more than 100 employees, and have a federal contract, subcontract, or purchase order amounting to $50,000 or more lasting for at least 30 days (including modifications).

OFCCP is also considering covering postsecondary academic institutions that file the IPEDS report with the Department of Education.

Requirements of Equal Pay Report

The NPRM contemplates requiring covered federal contractors to submit an equal pay report that includes the following information:

  • Total number of workers within each EEO-1 job category by race/ethnicity and sex;
  • Total W-2 wages for all workers in each EEO-1 job category broken down by race/ethnicity and gender; and
  • Total hours worked for all employees in each EEO-1 category by race/ethnicity and gender.

No individual employee pay data will be required.

Reporting Method

OFCCP plans to design a web-based portal for covered contractors to report and maintain compensation information. OFCCP indicates that the webportal would be protected by applicable government IT security standards where contractors key in their data electronically or upload their forms into the system using the standard formats provided by OFCCP.

Data May be Basis for Audit Not Sanctions

Data from the proposed equal pay report would not in itself result in any sanction or adverse action against the contractor for compensation discrimination, according to OFCCP. However, OFCCP will use the information to prioritize contractors for compliance evaluations. If OFCCP selects a contractor for a compliance evaluation, that review would cover compensation data beyond what is in the contractor’s equal pay report and would involve a more specific and detailed data request that are typical in an OFCCP compliance evaluation.

Aggregate Data

OFCCP is also considering publishing aggregate information based on pay data collected from the equal pay report, but the data will not be specific to any particular contractor. The data could include ranges or averages by industry, labor market, or other groupings.

Effective Date/Comments

OFCCP is proposing an annual reporting window of January 1 to March 31. The data in this report would be based on W-2 earnings for the prior calendar year (Jan. 1- Dec 31) for all employees included in the contractor’s EEO-1 report for that year, which will generally align with the time period covered under a contractor’s W-2 filings.

Implications

The practice of OFCCP using the equal pay report to target its enforcement efforts could potentially eliminate OFCCP’s current random audit selection process and replace it with a targeted selection process. Despite the potential constitutional concerns, contractors should strongly consider conducting proactive pay equity analyses now, so that any areas of concern can be addressed before data is reported to OFCCP. This should include a total compensation analysis since contractors will need to report total compensation (i.e., all wages contained in the Form W-2) rather than just base salary.

Contractors should also be wary of potential confidentiality issues. Although OFCCP attempted to allay contractors’ confidentiality fears, the data, much like EEO-1 reports, could be turned over to private plaintiff’s attorneys for use in civil litigation. OFCCP believes that the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) would exempt the disclosure of contractor data if it can be shown that (1) the contractor is still in business (2) the data is confidential and sensitive, and (3) the release of data would subject the contractor to commercial harm. For now, it is unclear whether these exemptions would actually shield contractors’ pay data in all cases.

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Filed under Compensation, Department of Labor, OFCCP

Executive Order May Block Contractors with Labor Violations from Receiving Federal Contracts

On July 31, 2014, President Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (“Executive Order”) that requires contractors to (1) disclose recent violations of various workplace laws before being awarded federal contracts; (2) provide wage notifications to employees and notify independent contractors of their non-employee status; and (3) barring contractors from requiring employees to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements. This is slated to take effect for new contractors in 2016.

Background on Executive Order

According to a Fact Sheet released with the Executive Order, the purpose of this executive action is to “crack down” on federal contractors by ensuring that companies with a history of employee rights violations do not receive federal contracts. The White House indicated that the “goal of the process created by the Executive Order is to help more contractors come into compliance with workplace protections, not to deny contracts to contractors.” The Obama Administration also believes that the Executive Order will “promote efficiency in federal contracting” by removing “companies with workplace violations” that are “more likely to encounter performance problems.”

The Executive Order comes on the heels of a series of presidential actions geared towards implementing the Obama Administration’s “Year of Action” agenda in light of the stalemate in Congress. As recent as two weeks ago, President Obama signed an executive order making it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Covered Contracts

The Executive Order will apply to all federal contracts for goods and services, including construction contracts, where the estimated value of the contract exceeds $500,000. It also requires prime contractors to flow down this requirement to all subcontracts that are not for commercially available off-the-shelf items where the estimated value of the subcontract is over $500,000.

Requirements of Executive Order

Disclosure of Labor Law Violations

As part of the solicitation process for covered contracts, contractors will be required to disclose whether they have any violations of certain federal and state discrimination, wage and hour, leave, and safety laws in the three years prior to bidding on the solicitation. Specifically, the Executive Order requires contractors to disclose violations of the following labor laws:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”);
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act;
  • The National Labor Relations Act;
  • The Davis-Bacon Act;
  • The Service Contract Act;
  • Executive Order 11246;
  • Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act;
  • The Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act;
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act;
  • Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act;
  • Executive Order 13658 (establishing minimum wages for contractors); and
  • Equivalent state laws, as defined by the Department of Labor guidance.

Violations of these laws includes “any administrative merits determination, arbitral award or decision, or civil judgment” rendered against the contractor in the three years prior to the solicitation.

As part of this disclosure, contractors will have an opportunity to disclose to the contracting officer any “steps taken to correct the violations” or “improve compliance” with these laws, including any agreements the contractor has entered with a federal or state enforcement agency. If the contractor is awarded a contract covered by the Executive Order, the contractor must provide updated disclosures to the contracting officer every six months for the duration of the contract.

Notification of Wages

Contractors will now be required to provide all individuals performing work on the contract a notification “concerning the individual’s hours worked, overtime hours, pay, and any additions made to or deductions made from pay.” This notification must be provided to employees in each pay period. Contractors will not have to include hours worked in the notification for employees who are exempt from the overtime requirements under FLSA or similar state laws if the contractor has previously informed the employee that they are exempt from overtime.

Independent Contractor Notification

The Executive Order requires contractors to provide written notification to individuals they are treating as independent contractors who perform work on contracts covered by the Executive Order. No details have been provided on what information must be included in this disclosure.

No Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

Contractors being awarded contracts with an estimated value of $1 million will no longer be able to require employees or independent contractors to enter pre-dispute arbitration agreements requiring them to arbitrate claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims. This does not apply if:

  • The employee voluntarily consents to the arbitration agreement after a dispute has arisen between the employee and the contractor;
  • The contract is for commercial items or commercially off-the-shelf items;
  • The arbitration agreement was entered prior to the contractor bidding on a contract covered by the Executive Order.

Flow Downs to Subcontractors

Prime contracts must flow down:

  • The requirements to disclose labor law violations for any subcontract of $500,000 or more (except for contracts for commercially available off-the-shelf items)
  • The requirement to provide employees with wage notifications and independent contractors notification of their status in all subcontracts of $500,000 or more (except for contracts for commercially available off-the-shelf items); and
  • The requirement prohibiting certain pre-dispute arbitration agreements for subcontracts with an estimated value exceeding $1 million.

In addition, prime contractors must represent to the contracting officer that:

  • The prime contractor will require each subcontractor to disclose labor law violations to it and update this information every six months; and
  • Before awarding the subcontract, the prime contractor will consider the disclosures submitted to it by the subcontractor to determine whether the subcontractor is “a responsible source that has a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics”.

If violations of labor laws are brought to the attention of the prime contractor, the prime contractor must consider whether “action is necessary”, including whether to award the subcontract or taking remedial measures if the subcontract is already awarded.

Determination of Violations

Before awarding contracts of $500,000 or more, contracting officers are required to consider these disclosures to determine whether the contractor “is a responsible source that has a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.” The Executive Order has instructed the FAR Council, in consultation with the Department of Labor and other agencies, to issue regulations that provide guidance on what labor law violations “demonstrate a lack of integrity or business ethics” because they are “serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive violations.”

Although contractors will have to wait until the final regulations are issued to understand what types of labor law violations the government may block them from receiving contracts, the Executive Order provides the following guidance:

  • A “single violation of law may not necessarily give rise to a determination of lack of responsibility”, but it will depend on the “nature” of the violation.
  • To the extent existing standards under those labor laws do not provide guidance on the types of violations that are considered “serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive violations”, the government will use the following standards:
    • Violations are “serious” based on, among other considerations: (1) the number of employees affected; (2) the degree of risk posed or actual harm done by the violation to the well-being of the worker; (3) the amount of damages incurred or fines or penalties assessed for the violation;
    • Violations are “repeated” if the contractor has “had one or more additional violations of the same or a substantially similar requirement in the past three years”;
    • Violations are “willful” if the contractor “knew of, showed reckless disregard for, or acted with plain indifference” to whether it was in compliance with these labor laws; and
    • Violations will be considered “pervasive” by comparing the “number of violations” of these labor laws in relation to the size of the contractor.

Contracting officers must give consideration to “any remedial measures or mitigating factors”, such as any corrective actions taken by the contractor. The Executive Order also instructs contracting officers to send information to the “agency suspending or debarring official” as appropriate for serious violations.

Website

The federal government will be developing a website for contractors to report information required by the Executive Order as well as other federal contractor reporting requirements.

Effective Date

The Executive Order will be implemented on all covered contracts in stages on a “prioritized basis” starting in 2016.

 

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Filed under Department of Labor, Executive Order, OFCCP