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EEO Counselors play an important 
role in resolving complaints

      Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) counselors, including those at Fort McCoy, play an important role in helping to resolve EEO complaints on an informal basis and supporting the EEO mission, said Dale Vergott.

      Vergott, an EEO specialist with the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office at Fort McCoy, said the office has a roster of about 160 EEO counselors throughout the U.S. Army Reserve.  "The EEO counselors are volunteers and serve in a collateral-duty capacity.  They perform their EEO duties in addition to their primary duties and responsibilities.  EEO counselors are an integral part of the EEO process and critical to our success." Vergott said.

Volunteers help make federal work place better for workers

      Four Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselors who work in conjunction with the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office at Fort McCoy said they volunteered for those collateral duties to help their fellow employees and to help make the federal work force a better place to work.

      Bud Ray, an EEO counselor for the 70th Reserve Readiness Command in Seattle, Wash., said he became a counselor because he enjoyed the training, people, and a chance to employ creative techniques in problem solving.

      Ray said, "I have faith that if people are given the chance to do the right thing, the majority of people will act responsibly and do the right thing."

      Peggy Wells of the 143rd Transportation Command in Orlando, Fla., said one of the most satisfying aspects of being a counselor is to help resolve conflicts. 

      "I like being there for them," Wells said, "helping them look at a situation and discussing their alternatives.  I became a counselor to be a liaison between workers and management and to maybe help both sides see what they could do to make a better environment for all of us.  Often clients relate better to someone at their own level first and will open up more."

      Cindy Mussman, an EEO counselor at Fort McCoy said being a counselor means being impartial and listening and understanding what the complainant concerns are.   After she gathers the information, Mussman said she could provide the complainant with the information about the avenues they have to resolve a specific complaint.

      Janet Fearce, an EEO counselor for the Human Resource Command in St. Louis, said she has noticed through her experience as a counselor that sometimes people just want someone to listen to them.

      "I feel that when I take the time and listen to someone, I have helped that person," Fearce said.  "I am neutral so I can listen and be honest with them.  I just gather the facts.  I need everyone's cooperation.  I don't make the decision on who is right or who is wrong."

      Ray said the vast majority of federal employees do not intentionally close their eyes to sexual harassment within their organizations.  Likewise, Ray said he believes the majority of federal personnel do not intentionally practice discrimination based on color, race, sex, national origin, age or physical or mental disability, etc.

      EEO counselors are an asset available to managers and commanders to try and make a difference whether an issue is settled early on in the complaint process, he said. 

      At each step in the complaint process, the costs of a complaint rise.

      "The cost of having a qualified EEO counselor pales in comparison to what it costs an agency when acts of discrimination are found to have occurred," he said.  "Legal fees and compensatory damages, absenteeism and lower (work) productivity, employee turnover and bad publicity are only the beginning.  Managers who fail to have qualified EEO counselors in their work groups should understand they do not have the right to gamble with the well-being of others within the work group."

      Wells, Fearce and Ray said that being geographically dispersed from Fort McCoy poses challenges and requires people to be more efficient and effective in the technology involved in keeping a good line of communication open.

      Ray said proper planning allows the counselors to first concentrate on aspects of the process they can accomplish and then move on to other aspects as the information or procedures become available.

      Employees from both management and the work force also need to keep themselves informed about the changing roles of EEO, he said.

      "Stay engaged in the process and in the long run you will be better off because you are above the power curve," he said.  "Employees should research issues themselves and not depend upon others to educate them."

      Supervisors need to remember that one of the biggest downfalls that happens in the workplace is a lack of communication and issues involving ethics, he said.

      Personnel interested in becoming an EEO counselor should have good verbal and written communications skills.  Those selected to become counselors must complete 32 hours of training and testing.

      With such a widely dispersed base of counselors, the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office relies heavily on technology to keep volunteers informed and their skills up-to-date, Vergott said.  A Quarterly Counselor Connection Newsletter produced by the office and sent via e-mail provides information and sustainment training.

      Vergott emphasized that the EEO counselor's program is a commander's program.  The structure and quality of the program are ultimately the commander's responsibility.  The EEO staff maintains program viability, manages the counselors in the program and supports commanders in every way possible.

      Civilian employees, former employees, applicants for employment and some government contract employees who believe they have been discriminated against can use the process.  Vergott said they must contact the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory act. 

      The EEO complaint process starts when the aggrieved calls the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office at Fort McCoy.  During the initial intake interview the EEO specialist explains how the federal sector complaint process works, to include the role of the EEO counselor.  If counseling is requested, an EEO counselor is assigned for the complaint.  EEO counseling must be completed within 30 days of the date the complainant contacts the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office at Fort McCoy.

      During the first four days of the 30-day period, the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office does an initial intake of the complaint.   The complainant has the burden of stating the claim in reasonably clear terms.  "We require the complainants to be able to tell us why they think they were discriminated against.  The complainant must articulate the basis for the alleged actions or inaction of discrimination (race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or reprisal)," Vergott said. 

      The counselor has about 26 days to complete the counseling.  The primary purpose of EEO counseling is to resolve EEO matters informally to the satisfaction of all parties. 

      Assignment to an EEO case does not necessarily mean a counselor will spend the next 26 days dedicated to the EEO complaint and be unable to accomplish any work related to their primary job, he said.  The more common progression for complaint processing is for an EEO counselor to spend an hour or two for the next several days working on the complaint. 

      Most of the counseling process consists of setting appointments and conducting interviews with the person filing the complaint and a limited number of individuals (witnesses) having firsthand knowledge of the complaint. 

      Writing a counseling report is required and limited collection and review of documents also is required.

      While each EEO complaint has its own challenges, counselors spend between 10 and 20 hours on an average complaint.  Since this is an average, some cases would take more and some less, Vergott said.

      The counselor must identify two elements of a complaint: the issue(s) and basis(es).  The counselor will focus on the aggrieved persons issue(s) when conducting the inquiry. 

      "The EEO counselors must be impartial and treat all information as confidential.  The counselor does not determine whether discrimination has or has not occurred," Vergott said.

      If Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is offered during counseling and accepted, the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office has 90 days to conduct ADR during the precomplaint process.  If ADR is offered and declined, counselors have approximately 26 days to conduct traditional counseling.  If the issue is not resolved at the precomplaint stage and a complainant wants to file a formal complaint, the complainant has 15 days to submit in writing to the U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office a formal complaint using Department of the Army Form 2590R after the final interview with the counselor.  The EEO officer then has five days to accept or dismiss the complaint.               

     The U.S. Army Reserve EEO Office generally prepares the letter of acceptance or dismissal.  This involves articulating what specific claims have been accepted for investigations or recommended for dismissal, Vergott said.

      The regulations governing the processing of discrimination complaints are contained in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Provisions of 29 CFR and EEOC Management Directive 110 are incorporated into Army Regulation 690-600 for the administrative processing of EEO complaints within the Army. 

       "Ensuring EEO is practiced allows everyone to have an environment where all have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs, and to train and perform their jobs to the best of their abilities,"  Vergott said.

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