Federal laws protect you from feeling harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, or from working in an environment that you feel is otherwise hostile. You don’t have to be the person directly harassed or discriminated against in order to take action, though you may have to prove that this harassment or discrimination was severe enough to change your working conditions. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines the steps to take when this happens.
Document the times you’ve felt harassed or that someone created a hostile work environment.
Set up an appointment and meet with the EEO counselor at the agency where you work or where you applied for a job. You generally have 45 days from the day the harassment occurred to talk to an EEO counselor.
Discuss your options with the EEO counselor. She will likely suggest participating in counseling or pursuing an alternative form of dispute resolution, such as mediation.
File a formal complaint if the situation is not resolved through counseling and/or another form of dispute resolution. Federal guidelines require you to file this formal complaint within 15 days of learning from the EEO counselor about your right to do so.
Respond to any requests for information from the agency investigating your complaint. This agency has 180 days to finish its investigation and recommend a course of action, which can include dismissing your complaint if it doesn’t find enough evidence to substantiate it.
Appeal the decision if you don’t agree with it. You appeal by asking for a hearing or challenging the decision in federal district court. The investigating agency will tell you about your right to appeal when it issues its decision. Federal guidelines require you to request a hearing within 30 days of receiving information about your right to appeal.
Appeal the decision that the EEOC Office of Federal Operations makes during the initial appeal process, if you do not agree with it in its entirety or any part of it. The agency where you work or where you applied for a job also has the right to appeal any part of the decision.
Ask the EEOC to reconsider the result of your second appeal. You can only ask for this reconsideration if you can demonstrate that the EEOC Office of Federal Operations made a mistake in applying the law specific to the facts of your case. You have 30 days to ask the EEOC for this reconsideration. If the EEOC agrees to your request for reconsideration, the agency where you work or where you applied for a job can appeal this decision. Any decision the EEOC makes regarding your request is final.
File a lawsuit if you are not satisfied with the decision that the EEOC makes. Federal guidelines allow you to pursue action against the agency in federal district court, but only after you go through the EEOC’s internal administrative process. Federal guidelines outline the number of days you have to file such a lawsuit.
Items you will need
- Written or electronic record of when harassment and/or discrimination occurred
- Though the federal government doesn’t require you to do so, you may want to talk to your supervisor, or to your supervisor’s supervisor, if your supervisor is the person who is creating the hostile work environment, before meeting with an EEO counselor. Even if the situation isn’t resolved, you’ve at least created a record of the event and taken steps to resolve it.
- You may want to hire an attorney to help you during this process, especially if you file a lawsuit.
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