The federal government shutdown at 12:00 a.m. Saturday, December 22, 2018, as congressional leaders and the White House failed to strike a bipartisan funding deal over the U.S.-Mexico border wall. As of the date of this post, and after very public feuding between the parties, there is still no agreement to resolve the standoff and re-open the federal government.
What is the shutdown and what does it mean for employers? When congressional leaders and the White House reached a standstill over the federal spending package, funding for several federal agencies lapsed, forcing them to close until the government re-opens. But only about a quarter of the federal government has actually shut down. Essential personnel (e.g. the military, homeland security, certain hospitals) are still required to work, without pay, throughout the duration of the shutdown.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice, which appropriates funds to the federal court system, are among those federal bodies that are affected by the shutdown. Employers with cases before either body may experience delays. The courts are continuing to run by drawing down on court fees and other funds that are not dependent on congressional appropriations. Those funds are expected to last until January 11, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. If those funds do run out before new appropriations, the courts will continue to operate on a court-by-court basis but will prioritize its most essential cases, typically criminal cases involving confinement. At the discretion of the courts and judges, all other non-essential cases could be delayed until the government reopens.
The Chief Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the district covering the mid-section of the Commonwealth, has issued an Order delaying miscellaneous civil cases in which the United States or any of its agencies or officers is a party. Moreover, the EEOC has also announced that it is closed due to the shutdown. If a charge is filed against an employer, the agency will still notify the employer of the charge; however, it will not investigate charges of discrimination during the shutdown. The EEOC has also stated that it will not respond to inquiries about pending charges. When the federal government reopens, however, employers may check the status of a pending charge on www.eeoc.gov or by calling the office where your charge is being investigated.
Washington is currently at a standstill. At this point, there appears to be no end in sight to the government shutdown putting it on track to be the longest in history as of January 11. Questions related to active cases before a federal agency or pending in federal court should be directed toward legal counsel.
Please stay tuned for additional developments in Washington, including 2019’s legislative activity that may impact employers. In the meantime, if you have questions regarding this article, please contact any member of our Labor and Employment Practice Group.