Fact Sheet for Workplace Protections in the Federal Judiciary
This fact sheet provides a background and outlines the facts regarding workplace protections and related initiatives in the federal Judiciary.
Workplace protections have long existed for judicial employees, including explicit prohibitions on discrimination and harassment. Significant improvements have been implemented over the last several years that have increased the scope of employee protections, strengthened the obligations of judges and other employees to report misconduct or take other appropriate action, and improved the processes for reporting and addressing reports of misconduct.
In 2018, at the request of the Chief Justice, the Director of the Administrative Office created the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to examine the sufficiency of safeguards currently in place within the Judiciary to protect judicial employees from inappropriate conduct in the workplace. In its first six months it conducted extensive investigation and research, and published a 45-page report (pdf) that contained numerous findings and recommendations to the Judicial Conference of the United States for enhancing protections, improving working conditions, and refining procedures.
Based on those recommendations, the Judicial Conference approved and implemented sweeping improvements to the Model EDR Plan, Codes of Conduct, and Judicial-Conduct & Judicial-Disability (JC&D) Rules. A national Office of Judicial Integrity was created and the circuits established offices for Circuit Directors of Workplace Relations, in addition to existing Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) Coordinators at every local court.
Express discrimination and harassment prohibitions and protections have long existed for all judicial employees.
- Court EDR Plans prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, including conduct that would violate Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The JC&D Rules define misconduct to include discrimination, abusive or harassing behavior, and retaliation.
An additional prohibition against Abusive Conduct protects employees even when the misconduct is not discriminatory.
- Court EDR Plans prohibit Abusive Conduct, defined as “a pattern of demonstrably egregious and hostile conduct not based on a Protected Category that unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work and creates an abusive working environment. Abusive conduct is threatening, oppressive, or intimidating.” The JC&D Rules define misconduct to include treating judicial employees “in a demonstrably egregious and hostile manner.”
- The Codes of Conduct and JC&D Rules emphasize that judicial employees and judges have a responsibility to take appropriate action upon learning of potential workplace misconduct, even if they are only a bystander.
Confidentiality policies have been clarified to remove potential barriers and encourage reporting.
- Employee confidentiality obligations, such as those for chambers staff, expressly do not preclude one’s ability to report wrongful conduct.
Judicial employees have multiple avenues to report workplace conduct concerns, including anonymously and to points of contact within or outside their employing office. A multi-layer network of dedicated personnel—at the national, circuit, and local court levels—is available to provide confidential and impartial advice and guidance to judicial employees, managers, and judges.
- The Office of Judicial Integrity at the Administrative Office of the US Courts, Directors of Workplace Relations in each circuit, and Employment Dispute Resolution Coordinators in each court and employing office are all able to assist employees with a broad range of workplace conduct concerns. Employees are free to contact whomever they feel most comfortable and often contact more than one resource.
Robust informal processes provide valuable flexibility for employees to address workplace concerns.
- In addition to the formal complaint process, employees can also utilize a more flexible Assisted Resolution option, which has fewer fixed rules or deadlines.
The Formal EDR Complaint process has been revised in recent years to be more user-friendly and provides well-defined procedures through which workplace conduct issues are heard by an impartial federal judge.
- The Formal EDR Complaint process allows for an investigation of allegations and potential hearings for disputed issues. Parties have the right to be represented by counsel and a resulting decision can be appealed to the circuit judicial council.
- In addition to a Formal EDR Complaint, employees can also file a complaint under the JC&D Act to address allegations of misconduct by a judge.
- All courts and employing offices must conduct annual training for all judicial employees and judges on workplace conduct protections and processes.
The Federal Judicial Center (FJC) has created a broad range of publications, on-line resources, and in-person training programs to promote fair employment practices and workplace civility that supplement court-sponsored training and materials.
- The FJC regularly provides training programs for judicial employees in individual districts. Programs include Preventing Workplace Harassment, which is available in two versions, one for managers and one for employees; Respect in the Workplace, which fosters workplace civility; and another regarding the Codes of Conduct. Since 2016, the FJC has presented these programs nearly 200 times in courts around the country.
- Data is collected across the Judiciary on Formal EDR Complaints and requests for Assisted Resolution, as well as judicial conduct and disability complaints and actions under the JC&D Act.
- The Federal Judiciary’s Workplace Conduct Working Group, in collaboration with Judicial Conference committees and Administrative Office advisory groups, continues to engage in evaluation and assessment of existing policies, procedures, and practices to ensure an exemplary workplace for judicial employees.
- The Judiciary continues to actively engage internal and external stakeholders. For example, recently a letter was sent to approximately 200 law schools across the country, highlighting the Office of Judicial Integrity and Circuit Directors of Workplace Relations as confidential avenues for law school administrators to seek guidance and/or report concerns of which they become aware.