FORT POLK, La. — People clash. They have different opinions, personalities and lifestyle choices. When those ideologies don’t mesh in a social situation, conflict can occur or people can walk away with the option of never seeing each other again.
However, discord is not that easy to shrug off in a work environment. When people don’t see eye to eye on a daily basis, the result can become a toxic work environment.
That’s why the Fort Polk Equal Employment Opportunity Office exists.
The office is located at 7090 Alabama Ave., building 1454, (within the Judge Advocate General Corps offices next to the new Playtown Cafe).
The EEO mission — as per Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk policy — states employees and job applicants are to be free from discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), mental or physical disability, genetic information or reprisal for prior EEO activity.
To help accomplish that mission, EEO provides a wide range of services including training, advisory services, alternate dispute resolution, complaints processing and more.
April Evans, EEO manager, said the goal is simple — fair treatment for Fort Polk civilians.
“That includes applicants for government service, those already employed by the government and those who may be terminated or moved in the future,” Evans said. “One group we don’t service, when it comes to complaints, is civilian contractors. They have to go through their contracting officer representative.”
Evans said EEO’s door is always open and her team reinforces their professionalism.
“We aren’t for the employee; we aren’t for management; we are strictly for the program,” Evans said. “We are a neutral party here to listen. That’s what we stand for.”
Evans said they will walk a client through the process if the person feels they have been discriminated against.
“You have to have a basis for your complaint such as race, religion, age or one of the other nine protected categories and an issue when you come to our office,” Evans said.
EEO will give the complainant options. For instance, if they want to talk to their supervisor about the issue, that’s encouraged.
“We want that relationship and communication in place to try resolving the issue at the lowest level,” Evans said.
In the event the issue does not fall under EEO’s purview, they can still provide help in other ways.
“We know it takes courage to walk through our doors. We never want anyone, regardless of grade, who they work for or where they work, to leave and say, ‘that was a waste of my time,’” Evans said. “Instead, we want them to say, ‘Wow, EEO couldn’t help me, but they gave me a plethora of resources that could help me.’”
If they do have a valid grievance, the EEO complaint process has two parts — a pre-complaint (or informal phase) and a formal complaint stage. Both are governed by the same laws and regulations, using the same discrimination to address the claims raised by individuals.
There are several requirements that must be met before a complaint can move on to the formal stage.
•An individual must act upon the feeling of having been discriminated against by contacting an EEO official within 45 calendar days with the intent to initiate a pre-complaint.
•The EEO official will ask questions about the issue and offer options such as an alternate dispute resolution through mediation or traditional counseling.
•If resolution is achieved, a negotiated settlement agreement will be written and signed by the aggrieved and a management official.
•If resolution is not achieved, the EEO counselor will conduct a final interview with the aggrieved and provide a notice of right to file a formal complaint.
A formal complaint must be filed within 15 calendar days of the date the aggrieved received the notice.
•The first step in the formal process is for the EEO officer to decide whether to accept or dismiss the complaint.
•If accepted, it will be referred to the Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service Investigations and Resolutions Division for a formal investigation.
•If dismissed, the complainant can appeal to the Office of Federal Operations, Equal Opportunity Commission, an independent Federal agency with the final decision on all administrative complaints of discrimination.
Education and training is key to the EEO mission.
“Our office teaches, trains, conducts surveys and focus groups as part of preventive measures when it comes to discrimination,” Evans said.
At the end of the day, Evans said EEO provides an ear to listen when someone feels discriminated against and has something to say.
“We give those supervisors and employees options about what they can do when they perceive an issue,” Evans said.
Another service EEO offers is mediation with or without an EEO complaint.
“If you and your supervisor or coworker just don’t get along, you still have to be professional and work together. You have to find a way to get along. We have certified mediators that can try to help resolve the conflict,” Evans said.
Evans emphasized how the tenets of equal opportunity guide the EEO in their mission.
“I’m very passionate about my job. The people on my team work and support EEO and feel it’s more than just a job. It’s about trying to change behaviors and mindsets, as well as support those being discriminated against,” Evans said.
“We aren’t the enemy and we’re not trying to get anybody in trouble, but if someone does something wrong or illegal, there are consequences.”
For more information call (337) 531-1799.