EEOC call center to answer questions faster Contractors will provide inferior service, union says


Managers and employees with questions about the discrimination complaint process now have a central place to go for answers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched its National Contact Center March 21 with a ceremony in Lawrence, Kan., where the center is located. Thirty-six private-sector employees will staff the center 12 hours a day to answer the more than 1 million calls the EEOC receives each year. Those calls previously were fielded by mediators, investigators and other EEOC employees, who often took days, weeks or even months to return calls, EEOC Chairwoman Cari Dominguez said. She said having an established call center will enable the EEOC to answer people's questions in a timely fashion and allow EEOC employees to focus on their primary jobs. "We have been struggling to handle customer calls for a long, long time," Dominguez said. "We believe the contact center will take the commission to a much higher level of service than we have had in the past.

"However, the union that represents EEOC employees believes the center will erode customer service if it relies on contract operators who don't have the same level of experience as investigators. Callers could decide not to pursue a valid discrimination complaint because of inaccurate or incomplete information they receive by an operator, said Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees. "When poorly trained operators give misinformation or frustrate callers by parroting back scripts, the public will lose their statutory right to bring a charge of discrimination," Martin said.

Each employee at the center received two weeks of training by the EEOC and will follow prepared scripts to answer frequently asked questions. Operators won't determine whether a person has been discriminated against but can provide information the caller could use to determine whether discrimination might have occurred, said Ed Elkins, EEOC project manager for the center. If the caller wants to file a discrimination complaint or needs more details, the operator will forward the caller's information to an EEOC field office that will then contact the caller. Operators also will be able to access EEOC's case management system to answer questions regarding the status of individual cases that have already been filed.

Martin said a test of the call center concept performed in the EEOC's Dallas field office showed no discernible difference in the number of phone calls coming into the office and did little to reduce workloads for EEOC employees. In fact, workloads increased in some instances because investigators had to re-collect information provided by the operators because it was incomplete or inadequate, she said. The center is being operated by Pearson Government Solutions of Arlington, Va., under a two-year contract awarded in September. If the center proves successful, EEOC can extend the contract for three additional years. The contract is worth $4.9 million over two years and $12.6 million over five years.

The center's toll-free number is 1-800-669-4000.