The lights are out at the federal government, but what implications does the shutdown have for employers who have daily business to pursue with the federal government and agencies? EBA and EBN looked closely at employment and benefits-related issues hampered by the shutdown. Consider yourself lucky not to be the single employee left handling labor management issues – as is the case at one mostly darkened federal agency.

Here are the highlights:

  • The Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board will operate with skeleton crews during the shutdown, which could cause significant delays for employers facing regulatory action. Of the DOL’s approximately 16,000 employees, more than 13,000 are furloughed. These staff reductions have temporarily ceased all non-emergency occupational safety and health inspections, wage and hour audits, hearings and appeals at the DOL. However, employers must still comply with all federal labor and employment laws as they remain in effect despite the shutdown.
  • Of those DOL workers, only 46 of the 986 members of the Employee Benefits Security Administration are on the job during the shutdown.
  • The NLRB, which oversees union-organizing elections and arbitrates workplace disputes, has furloughed 99% of its employees, leaving only 11 workers to mind the office. The agency has stopped handling cases and temporarily ceased representation elections, trials and hearings, which includes resolving union elections and reinstating back pay.
  • Further, the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will suspend operations almost entirely. According to the agency, OSHA will cease all operations except those relating to “emergencies involving the safety of human life or protection of property.”
  • U.S. employers will not be able to access E-Verify, the system that allows employers to voluntarily determine the immigration status and eligibility of prospective employees to work in the United States. More than 400,000 employers are currently enrolled in the E-Verify system, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and the system shutdown will delay an employer’s ability to process new employee paperwork and may lead to employers casting off new hire plans. And the Employment and Training Administration will not process foreign labor certifications. 
  • One single worker is left to run the Office of Labor Management Standards during the shutdown, normally staffed by 216 employees. The office will only investigate “criminal cases under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act”—and only if the cases have strict statutory deadlines.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for which approximately 107 of the 2,164 EEOC personnel will remain, will continue to accept and docket new discrimination charges and federal sector appeals, as well as litigate lawsuits where a continuance has not been granted. The agency will also file motions to seek injunctive relief if doing so is necessary “to protect life or property,” or to “maintain the integrity and viability of EEOC's information systems; maintain the security of our offices and property; and perform necessary administrative support to carry out those excepted functions.” However, the EEOC will not investigate discrimination charges, answer questions from the public or respond to their correspondence, provide outreach and education, conduct mediation and litigation in federal courts if granted an extension of time.

The last government shutdown, which took place 17 years ago during the Clinton administration, cost taxpayers more than $1.25 billion dollars, which includes lost revenue and fees and back pay to workers who were furloughed. Employers will likely suffer obstacles to their daily work responsibilities and encounter hurdles to managing their benefits and personnel. Share your experience of how the government shutdown has affected your business so far in the comments section.

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