2014 SWARM CONFERENCE MEETS HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The Annual Southwest and Rocky Mountain (SWARM) Region Industry Liaison Group (ILG) Conference is known for high-quality information sessions on topics of interest to the federal contractor community, as well as active participation by representatives of government agencies. This year’s SWARM Conference, held in Denver, CO, was particularly notable, as it was the first ILG Conference since the updated Section 503 and VEVRAA regulations went into effect.

 

As expected, the new regulations were featured prominently throughout the conference. SWARM Regional Director Melissa Speer attempted to ease attendees’ concerns with VEVRAA’s hiring benchmark for protected veterans and Section 503’s utilization goal for individuals with disabilities. Speer mentioned how the benchmark and goal are “aspirational” management tools to measure progress and to promote accountability and should not be interpreted as mandatory quotas. She also reiterated that the changes required by the new regulations are a “process, not a switch,” and that “failure to meet these goals and benchmarks is not a violation, but failing to try is.” Additionally, Assistant Secretary of Labor, Kathleen Martinez provided some background and best practices for implementing the Section 503 regulations.

 

Despite these reassurances, practitioners who work with the contractor community provided some best practices of their own, advising contractors to be strategic about coming into compliance with the updated regulations. Mickey Silberman, Managing Partner at Jackson Lewis, advised attendees to “make these changes on a sequenced basis,” rather than trying to implement everything at once. Several presenters emphasized the importance of documenting and maintaining records of all good faith efforts.

 

Another topic that received considerable attention at this year’s SWARM Conference was ‘steering,’ where an organization may be accused of hiring female applicants for some jobs and males for other (typically higher-paying) jobs. Speaking with a panel of OFCCP District Directors, Rachel Woods, District Director from New Orleans, warned that there should not be any company representatives suggesting that female (or any protected class member) should apply for certain jobs, and that there should not be any “traditional-female” or “traditional-male” jobs. To prevent steering issues, she advised that contractors should have objective qualifications for positions, written guidelines in the hiring process, training for recruiters and hiring managers. Woods also recommends that contractors continually monitor their hiring processes. Additionally, as a best practice, she advised that contractors should ensure that an applicant is only able to apply for one position per application, and that application should specify to which position the job seeker is applying.

 

In the same OFCCP District Directors panel, Karen Hyman from the Houston District also advised that OFCCP does actively work with other agencies, including EEOC, OSHA, the Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice, and the Wage and Hour Division of the Dept. of Labor.

 

The other hot topic at this year’s SWARM Conference was compensation. While there was considerable buzz surrounding the looming compensation data collection tool requested in President Obama’s April 8 Presidential Memorandum, OFCCP representatives were not able to provide any details. However, on the final day of the conference, Melissa Speer was joined by OFCCP’s Deputy Director of Operations, Marika Litras (who filled in at the last minute for an ill Pam Coukos) to discuss the agency’s compensation equity enforcement under Directive 307. Valerie Hoffman from Seyfarth Shaw represented the practitioner community on the panel. During this session, Speer insisted that “there is no trigger” that initiates a compensation analysis, although Litras did acknowledge that there are several factors that are taken into consideration which may “trigger” further consideration. However, she said that the criteria for selecting cases to pursue are “not valuable to share because [they are] constantly changing.”

 

To close out the conference, a panel of experts, including DCI’s own David Cohen, played a game of Family Feud in which they presented some best practices related to a wide range of topics affecting the federal contractor community.

 

If the SWARM Conference is any indication, we will have a lot to report from the National ILG Conference in Washington, D.C. this August.  Stay tuned!

 

 

By Dave Sharrer, M.S., Associate Consultant, DCI Consulting Group

 

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