As the U.S. government took an abrupt U-turn in its policies to use contractors, government agencies are now increasing contract work. But with new contractors comes new human resources headaches.
Government agencies including the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy are faced with more complex questions of defining a person’s work status as a contractor versus a federal employee reports the Washington Post. Workplace Issues such as disputes over pay, workers compensation, harassment complaints and discrimination claims all fall into play with government contractors.
Contractors aren’t entitled to the same grievance processes as federal employees and often need to go through outside agencies, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or get private lawyers and file lawsuits. Federal employees on the other hand have a range of mediation services and appeals available to them. The EEOC has ruled in 90 cases over the past ten years that a federal agency and a private contractor are “joint employers” of a person, which means their case has to be processed as if they were a civil servant.
“You’re absolutely seeing more of these types of cases,” Mindy Farber told the Post. Farber, who is a lawyer who has specialized in federal employment law for 30 years said that the policies and rules regarding contractor disputes makes it unclear who is liable when something goes wrong. “It leaves a person in a no-man’s land,” she said. “You’re ricocheted back and forth between the contractor and the agency.”
Even defining a contractor can be difficult, since the federal government has at least four definitions established to cover various legal aspects of federal bureaucracy.
Federal agencies are also bound by limited supervision, limited approval of leave, training restrictions and evaluations, according to the Department of Defense.
In one example cited by the Washington Post, Alanna Taylor worked as a project manager for the U.S. Army at a biomedical research facility and was supervised daily by Army officials. After she filed a gender discrimination complaint, the Army’s equal employment office ruled that she was a contractor and not entitled to the same grievance process as a federal employee, according to Taylor. Taylor said she has appealed her case to the EEOC.