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Federal Managers Face Challenge of Discrimination Issues in the Workplace

Being a manager or supervisor has long been one of the most difficult jobs in the federal workforce, given the myriad challenges inherent in running an efficient office, in addition to following all government-wide regulations. One of the more pressing issues managers have to deal with, especially in recent years, is how to handle and stop discrimination in the workplace. As you are likely aware, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and additional legislation, prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, disability, age (over 40), gender or religion. 

As the issue has grown in the public consciousness, it has become more important for managers to handle allegations of discrimination matters effectively.

There are some areas in which the federal government is ahead of the private sector in addressing discrimination. A 1998 executive order signed by President Clinton reiterated the policy of equality based on sexual orientation, a point of contention in recent private-sector controversies. In addition, a recent study by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found that a full 34 percent of the Senior Executive Service (SES) were women, while women hold less than 15 percent of private sector executive positions.

These advances, however, do not mean discrimination is a non-issue in the federal workforce. As important as preventing discrimination is, for federal managers, it is equally important to effectively manage a complaint. Federal managers often face allegations of discrimination for a variety of management decisions, including basic actions like assigning work to particular employees. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), about 30 percent of its resolved appeals are harassment cases. Facing an EEO complaint or an allegation of creating a hostile workplace allegation has unfortunately become the cost of doing business for federal managers, as the likelihood of having to defend against these cases has increased. While there are numerous instances of real discrimination, the EEO system is designed to give fair hearing to every complaint, resulting in even frivolous allegations consuming valuable time and resources.

Managers in the federal government can help protect against EEO complaints and other allegations by purchasing a professional liability insurance (PLI) policy from FEDS. The FEDS program provides members with up to $200,000 in legal representation from high-quality federal employment attorneys for every complaint, allegation, or administrative investigation you may be subject to. Even if the allegations against you are fraudulent, for many people it is the security and peace of mind that comes from having your own legal defense that makes having PLI a no-brainer. With policies starting as low as $290 a year, FEDS provides this security for thousands of federal managers each year.

Even if you have PLI, there are many good methods for limiting discrimination complaints in your office. Managers must be fully aware of how their actions, no matter how well-intentioned, could be received by employees. To fully grasp what is and isn’t harassment federal managers and supervisors should have a strong knowledge of their agencies’ policies towards discrimination, as these can vary considerably across the federal government. As important is to make sure that others in the office know the regulations front-to-back as well, as this will help limit miscommunication between your employees. Overall, an office with fewer misunderstandings and harassment allegations leads to a more effective, efficient, and higher-morale workforce.

For more information on your specific exposures now, how professional liability insurance protects, or how the FEDS program differs from other insurance programs, please visit the FEDS website and choose the Executive and Managers tab. For more articles like this one, read "Yesterday's Headlines, Today's Coverage" in the bottom left corner on the FEDS homepage.


Posted in Manager Matters



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