Who are you?

Let’s start with who you are. Most likely, you have been appointed the Equal Opportunity (EO) officer for your organization in addition to your “day job.” Yet, as the EO officer, you perform critical duties. You’ve joined the ranks of EO professionals across the country and the U.S. territories.

As a Workforce Investment Act (WIA) EO officer, you work for an organization that administers, or is financed by, WIA Title I funds. Most likely, the U.S. Department of Labor is your federal funding agency. Your organization may be a state or local government agency, an unemployment insurance call center, a workforce investment board, a LWIA grant recipient, the operator of a One-Stop, a service provider or eligible training provider, an on-the-job-training employer, a Job Corps operator or contractor, or a placement agency.

You are a “senior-level” employee within your organization and you have direct access to top management for purposes of reporting on EO matters.

And, while most of you have duties associated with your “day jobs”, these duties do not create a conflict, or the appearance of a conflict, of interest with your EO duties. Here it is important to recognize that conflicts of interest may arise if you are part of your organization’s human resources (HR) or legal departments, or if you report EO matters to someone in your organization’s HR or legal departments. If you are unsure whether a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, exists between the duties of your “day job” and your EO duties, then you should consult with your state-level EO leadership, or the civil rights office of your federal funding agency.

To what are you entitled?

The organization you serve has certain responsibilities which are designed, by law, to enable you to properly perform your EO duties.

The organization is obliged to make your name, position title, and telephone number (voice and TDD/TTY) available to the public and it must ensure that this information appears on all communications pertaining to its nondiscrimination and equal opportunity programs. It is reasonable that this would include communications distributed through outreach, during orientation, on your organization’s website, and the like.

Moreover, the organization is obliged to:

● assign sufficient staff and resources to enable you to do your job;
● provide you and your assigned staff the opportunity to receive training to maintain
your competency; and
● provide you with the necessary support of “top management” to ensure compliance
with WIA’s nondiscriminatory and equal opportunity provisions.

And, it is worth repeating, that the law requires that you have access to report EO matters directly to an appropriate high-ranking official, such as your state-level WIA director, the Governor’s WIA liaison, a Mayor’s WIA liaison, Job Corps Center director, SESA Administrator, or LWIA grant recipient, and the like.

What are you (supposed) to do?

As a WIA EO officer, we know that your organization receives federal taxpayer dollars (WIA Title I funds) to administer programs and activities for the benefit of the public you serve. With these taxpayer dollars comes a legal obligation to provide benefits, aid, services, and training in compliance with WIA’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity mandates.

Noncompliance can lead to reduction, or elimination, of federal funding. Thus, the importance of your role as the EO officer cannot be overstated. You are the person who is designated to coordinate your organization’s compliance with these nondiscrimination and equal opportunity laws.

You should know that your state or U.S. territory must submit a document called the Methods of Administration for approval by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center every two years. This resource is generally developed by your state-level EO leadership and is signed by your governor. It contains the policies and procedures your state or U.S. territory has determined will be used to ensure compliance with WIA’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity laws. It is worthwhile for you to be generally familiar with the location and contents of this resource.

As a WIA EO officer, you serve as your organization’s liaison with the Civil Rights Center (CRC). Any EO officer should be familiar with the location of, and contact information for, his or her organization’s federal funding agency. For WIA EO officers, the phone number for the CRC’s enforcement office is (202) 693-6502 (voice). The TTY is (202) 693-6516. The e-mail address is: CRCExternalComplaints@dol.gov. The physical address for the CRC is: U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Rights Center, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Room N-4123, Washington, DC 20210. The CRC’s Office of Compliance and Planning, which may be able to offer technical and compliance assistance, is reached at (202) 693-6501 (voice).

In addition to serving as a liaison to the CRC, monitoring and investigating your organization’s activities to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination and equal opportunity laws are part of your duties as an EO officer. Here, you must have an understanding of how your organization operates each of its federally-funded programs and activities, and make sure that staff knows and understands the policies and procedures in place to prevent violations of the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity laws.

Speaking of written policies and procedures, as the EO officer, you are also responsible for reviewing these written documents to ensure that they are nondiscriminatory (see my prior blog titled, “The Importance of ‘The Script’”). To meet this obligation, you must have a complete collection of your organization’s policies and procedures pertaining to delivery of each of your federally-funded services, aid, benefits, and training. If you have questions regarding the propriety of any particular policies and procedures, contact your state EO leadership, or the civil rights office of your federal funding agency for guidance. You may also take a look at the policies and procedures set forth in your state’s or territory’s MOA.

Investigating discrimination complaints is another responsibility of the EO officer. For this, you must familiarize yourself with your organization’s discrimination complaint procedures. If no procedures are in place, you are responsible for developing and publishing such procedures. For this, you may seek guidance from your state EO leadership, the MOA, or the civil rights office of your federal funding agency. Moreover, our publication, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI-Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, is highly-recommended as a comprehensive, detailed, easy-to-follow resource. You may order a copy by visiting our website at www.titleviconsulting.com.

Finally, you are obliged to report EO matters to top management officials in your organization. Moreover, if directed by top management, you are compelled to attend training, paid by your organization, to maintain your competency in EO matters.

In sum, you are the eyes, ears, and voice on the front lines. You serve as liaison, monitor, investigator, policy developer, reviewer, and coordinator of critical, legally-mandated functions designed to ensure the nondiscriminatory delivery of federally-funded programs and activities to the public.

For regulations applicable to WIA EO officers, see 29 C.F.R. Part 37.

Seena Foster is an attorney and author of “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI-Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination. She is also a Partner with Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia. You may visit her website at www.titleviconsulting.com.