Q&A with Daniel P. Johnson
Federal agencies' work likely to ‘grind to a halt' during shutdown
Q: How does the federal government shutdown affect the federal agencies charged with investigating the workplace?
A: The U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) all released shutdown contingency plans, which outline the agency functions that will — and will not — continue to be performed during the shutdown. All three agencies will operate at fractions of their typical staffing levels.
At the Labor Department, only 2,954 of the agency's 16,304 employees will continue working during the shutdown. Drilling down into the agency's various divisions, the impact of the shutdown is more apparent. Only 230 of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 2,235 employees will continue working, while the Wage and Hour Division will only employ six active employees of its usual 1,829. Similarly, the EEOC will have just over 100 active employees (5 percent of its staff), and the NLRB will have less than 1 percent of its workforce active.
Q: How will the reduced staffing levels impact employers and employees?
A. With only skeleton crews on hand, it is not surprising that few agency functions will continue during the shutdown. For example, the OSHA will halt workplace safety inspections that don't concern emergencies involving human life, and the Wage and Hour Division will not have the manpower to investigate disputes regarding the failure to pay proper wages. At the EEOC, the agency will continue to accept complaints of unlawful discrimination, but it will not begin investigating the allegations, nor will the agency respond to inquiries from the public, answer Freedom of Information Act requests, or prosecute any litigation. Given its staffing levels, things at the NLRB are likely to grind to a halt. For employees and employers with investigations already in the pipeline, those proceedings will be held in limbo until the shutdown is finished.