Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Laws That Congress Are Exempt From

In 1995, the House and Senate passed the Congressional Accountability Act, which did apply many civil rights, labor and workplace safety statutes to the Legislative branch.

Congress is still exempt from:

— The Freedom of Information Act.

— Investigatory subpoenas to obtain information for safety and health probes.

— Protections against retaliation for whistleblowers.

— Having to post notices of worker rights in offices.

— Prosecution for retaliating against employees who report safety and health hazards.

— Having to train employees about workplace rights and legal remedies.

— Record-keeping requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses.

The Congressional Accountability Act applied the following provisions to the Legislative branch:

— The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

— The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

— Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

— The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

— The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

— The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

— The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute that allows collective bargaining by some federal workers.

— The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

— The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

— The Veterans' Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.

— The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989, which requires employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.

— Provisions of the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act, which gives veterans a preference for federal jobs.

On July 5, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the entire Federal Government is exempt from consumer protection laws that limit unwanted robocalls. They ruled that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 doesn't apply to the Federal Government, while the law does bar businesses from making numerous autodialed or prerecorded calls to a person's cellphone. The FCC did also make contractors working on behalf of the Government exempt from the law as well. Earlier this year, a Supreme Court case found that the law does not apply to the Government because of sovereign immunity. However, the FCC ruled that the Government falls outside the law's definition of a "person." "Indeed, had Congress wanted to subject the Federal Government to the TCPA, it easily could have done so by defining 'person' to include the Federal Government," according to the ruling. Therefore, contractors hired by members of Congress can robocall individuals to participate in town halls, Government researchers can place autodialed calls to the cellphones of survey respondents, and contractors can make similar calls to offer information about social security. The ruling does not apply to lawmakers who are using the calls for political campaigns.

The Office of Compliance cites certain Congressional exemptions as particularly problematic. The agency’s inability to subpoena information regarding some legislative workers’ complaints about health and safety often means the office must negotiate with Congressional offices to gather the facts it needs. “It can tie our hands sometimes,” said Barbara J. Sapin, the office’s Executive Director.

The Office of Compliance has urged Congress to apply the laws listed above to itself, except the Freedom of Information Act, with little result. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate who represents the District of Columbia, introduced a bill in 2011 to do this, but it died in committee.

The number of complaints of discrimination and harassment filed by legislative-branch workers with the Office of Compliance has nearly doubled in the last two years, from 102 in the 2009 fiscal year to 196 in the 2011 fiscal year. Workers’ complaints about retaliation or intimidation have risen even more sharply, from 36 in fiscal year 2009 to 108 in fiscal year 2011.

Even so, Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who specializes in workplace-rights law, said some Capitol Hill employees might be holding back from filing complaints. House and Senate staffers, she said, are often reluctant to speak up about harassment or discrimination for fear of jeopardizing their careers. “People are very loath to burn bridges by filing a complaint or going to the Office of Compliance,” she said. “They don’t want to go forward with bringing a claim, even when it’s covered under the law.”

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