By Deborah J. Hopkins, April 17, 2023
A few years ago, a client asked me what to do in this scenario: The employee did not show up to work for two weeks and did not respond to her supervisor’s phone calls, text messages, or emails. On the day the employee returned to work, the supervisor asked the employee where she had been. The employee said she had “been taking official time for my EEO complaints.”
EEOC’s regs at 29 CFR § 1614.605 establish that if the complainant “is an employee of the agency, she is entitled to a reasonable amount of official time, if otherwise on duty, to prepare the complaint and to respond to agency and EEOC requests for information … The agency is not obligated to change work schedules, incur overtime wages, or pay travel expenses to facilitate the choice of a specific representative or to allow the complainant and representative to confer.” [bold added]
There has been much litigation over what amount of official time is considered reasonable, and also over how much control an agency has over the complainant’s use of official time. EEOC recently addressed official time in Aline A. v. USDA/ARS, EEOC Appeal No. 2022003111 (Mar. 8, 2023). The case discusses EEOC’s long-held position that there’s not a set amount of official time designated for an EEO complaint. Also, the number of hours to which a complainant is entitled will vary based on factors including the complexity of the complaint, the agency’s mission, and the agency’s need to have its employees available to perform their normal duties on a regular basis.
Regardless of the details surrounding the complaint, “the Commission considers it reasonable for agencies to expect their employees to spend most of their time doing the work for which they are employed, so an agency may restrict the overall hours of official time afforded.” Referring to my client’s scenario above, we know reasonable does not include an AWOL employee claiming 80 hours after the fact, without making a request.
In Aline A., the complainant alleged the agency violated the law by denying her a reasonable amount of official time for her EEO complaint when:
- On Aug. 5, 2019, she was denied six hours of overtime pay, for official time.
- On Oct. 25, 2019, she requested three hours of official time and was denied.
- On Dec. 19, 2019, management denied her sufficient time (six hours) to meet with her designated representative regarding her pending EEO complaint.
The agency’s position was that it did not violate the complainant’s right to official time because:
- On Aug. 5, 2019, the supervisor stated the complainant claimed six hours of overtime for her EEO activity (premium pay) without pre-approval. The supervisor disapproved the overtime pay but provided the complainant with six hours of credit time.
- On Oct. 25, 2019, the supervisor had already scheduled the complainant’s performance evaluation. He denied her request due to the conflict but approved three hours of official time for Oct. 30, 2019. (The complainant was scheduled for leave on Oct. 28 and 29, 2019.)
- On Dec. 19, 2019, the complainant’s request for six hours of official time included four hours of driving and two hours for the meeting with the representative. The agency did not think it was reasonable to provide official time for all the travel, but still granted four hours of official time, to include one leg of travel.
The Commission sided with the agency on all three official time claims and found the complainant “did not establish that the Agency improperly denied her official time for her EEO activity.” Specifically on the Oct. 25 denial, the commission ruled: “[T]he Agency reasonably delayed Complainant’s request for three hours of official time to balance her need with business reasons,” namely the performance evaluation.
Other recent cases have discussed official time including:
- Complainants are not entitled to unlimited officialEEO time, just because they request it. Jeanie G. v. USDA/ARS, EEOC No. 2021003820 (Feb. 28, 2023).
- A supervisor requiring a complainant to obtain approval prior to every official timerequest does not violate 29 CFR Part 1614. Angela R. v. DOD/NGA, EEOC No. 2022002317 (Feb. 21, 2023).
- A supervisor requiring advance requests of EEO meetings related to official time, when the supervisor does not ask details about where the complainant was specifically going and with whom the complainant was meeting, does not violate 29 CFR Part 1614. Bryan F. v. Army, EEOC No. 2022002206 (Feb. 16, 2023).
Hope this helps. Hopkins@FELTG.com