| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Harassment

What Is Unlawful Harassment Under Federal Law?

Unlawful harassment occurs when an employer treats a person or group differently from others who are similarly situated. If you work for the federal government and believe that you have experienced unlawful workplace harassment, there is a specific procedure you must follow to get relief. Today, we will discuss the basics of what constitutes harassment under federal law, and what federal employees can do about it. What Is Unlawful Harassment? Unlawful harassment is a form of employment discrimination violating multiple federal acts designed to provide equal rights to all employees. These include: Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  This conduct could be based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, genetic information, or disability. Types of Unlawful Workplace Harassment Conduct Unlawful harassment can include verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct. Verbal or Written Harassment  Verbal harassment may include insults, derogatory slurs or comments, or name-calling. Invasive questions about a person’s body, appearance, clothing, customs, or sexual activity may also qualify as unlawful workplace harassment. Verbal harassment includes written, emailed, or text statements.  Visual Harassment Visual harassment can be harder to detect or prove. But examples include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive noises, hostile eye contact, and derogatory or offensive images. Offensive images can come in many forms, including images on the clothing someone wears to work. Physical Harassment Physical harassment can include unwanted proximity. This can include following, standing close to, or actually touching someone. Sexually suggestive hand gestures or facial expressions can be categorized as physical harassment as well, even if there is no actual contact. And of course, actually touching someone else’s body without permission in any type of sexual or unwanted manner is prohibited. What Is Unlawful Retaliation? Retaliation is a specific form of discrimination that may occur in response to an employee making a good faith complaint about workplace harassment or discrimination. Retaliation can also happen in response to the refusal of sexual advances or defending others from advances. Requests for disability or religious accommodations may also be met with retaliation. Unlawful retaliation occurs when an employer changes the terms of employment such as responsibilities, pay, schedule, or other factors as a form of punishment.  What Three Factors Are Commonly Used to Determine Unlawful Workplace Harassment?  Not all offensive actions rise to the level of illegality. Petty slights, annoyances, or isolated incidents, though bothersome, may not be severe enough to constitute a claim for unlawful harassment. According to the EEOC, there are three factors commonly used to determine unlawful workplace harassment:  Whether the harassment was extensive enough to create a hostile or intolerable work environment for the employee; Whether the victim tolerated the harassment to keep or obtain their job; and Whether the harassment was a retaliatory response to an employee filing or participating in a complaint. If any of these factors are applicable in your situation, you may be eligible for financial compensation.  Process of Filing a Formal Unlawful Workplace Harassment Complaint for Federal Employees If you have experienced unlawful harassment in a federal workplace, you have options to assert your rights. It is important to note that these are legal remedies and the best way to achieve the results you deserve is to hire an experienced EEOC attorney.  Contact Your EEO Counselor Each federal agency has an EEO counselor. Contact your designated counselor within 45 days of when the discrimination occurred. This is the first step prior to filing a formal complaint with the EEOC. The counselor can walk you through the process. You may have multiple options for filing. An experienced EEOC attorney can guide you through this process.  Alternative Dispute Resolution After speaking with your EEO counselor, federal employees may participate in alternative dispute resolution. This typically means mediation, and is a good opportunity to try to resolve issues at the lowest level. However, if this does not resolve the problem, it may be time to file a formal complaint. File a Formal Complaint If your unlawful workplace harassment dispute cannot be resolved using alternative dispute resolution, your EEO counselor will provide you with a written notice that gives you the right to file a formal complaint within 15 days. The notice will explain how to properly file the formal complaint.  Agency Investigation Once the agency accepts your discrimination claim, they will initiate an investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, you may request an immediate final decision or a hearing before an administrative judge.  Hearing Before an Administrative Judge Hearings are not always a part of the EEOC formal complaint process depending on your claim. During the hearing, your case is presented to the judge who reviews information from both sides and makes a decision whether or not there was discrimination.  Final Decision and Appeal The federal agency will review the judge’s decision. If the judge found unlawful harassment, the agency can implement the judge’s orders or its own remedy. Federal employees may still appeal to the EEOC’s appellate division, the Office of Federal Operation (OFO), within 30 days if the remedy is unfavorable.  Suing for Unlawful Workplace Harassment The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, can help you understand your complaint and the financial impact of the harassment. Our team is passionate about helping federal employees assert their rights and can help you collect evidence and build your case. Contact us today for your free case consultation.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal EEOC

Overview of Federal EEOC Complaint Process

No matter what your job is, you may encounter discrimination in the workplace during your career. There are several laws the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces that protect federal employees from discrimination. But what is the federal EEOC complaint process? If you find yourself the victim of discrimination in the federal workplace, it’s important to understand your rights and how to enforce them with an EEOC complaint. For immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate to send a message or call us at (833) 833-3529 today. Here is a breakdown of the 6-Step Federal EEOC Complaint Process. The 6 Steps in the EEOC Complaints Process 1. Contact Your EEO Counselor Each agency has an equal employment opportunity counselor. Before filing a formal complaint with the EEOC, the first step of the federal EEO complaint process is to contact your agency’s EEO counselor within 45 days of the discrimination. Note that some agencies will use different terms for this office, such as the Office of Resolution Management (ORM) at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The EEO counselor will provide information about how a federal EEO complaint works. At this step, your counselor will provide details about the EEO process, including approximate timelines and your appeal rights. They will usually ask for information about your claims and bases too. Where applicable, you may also have the option to go through alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This step is also when you must choose whether to file your complaint through the EEO, negotiated grievance, or the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) processes, if applicable. Not all cases have this choice, but when you do, federal employees may choose only one of these two paths and the option first chosen is generally considered to be your election. If you’re unsure where you should file your federal EEOC complaint, consider consulting a federal EEOC lawyer. Understanding Which Laws the EEOC Enforces The EEOC enforces four federal anti-discrimination laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Equal Pay Act of 1963, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Together, these laws protect against discrimination based on a number of characteristics, including race, color, sex and sexual orientation, religion or national origin, age, and disability. Additionally, the EEOC works to protect employees from retaliation by their superiors or agency. 2. Filing a Formal Complaint If you can’t resolve the issue through counseling or ADR, your counselor will provide you with a written Notice of Right to File Formal Complaint, and provide a final Interview. This notice gives you the right to file a formal complaint with your Agency’s EEO office within 15 days. Read the Notice carefully for instructions on where to send your complaint. Generally you can file your Formal EEO complaint by mail or email. Each complaint must be properly drafted to include at least: Contact information for you or your representative; Contact information for the person the claim is against; and A signed statement describing the events you believe resulted in discrimination, including when they occurred. After you submit your complaint, will review it to decide whether to conduct an investigation. 3. Your Agency Conducts an Investigation If your Agency accepts your claims, your agency will have to conduct an investigation into the alleged discrimination. Once the investigation is complete, you may request a hearing before an administrative judge, or you can request an immediate final decision for your EEOC complaint from your agency. 4. Hearing Before an Administrative Judge Like other court proceedings, an EEOC hearing involves presenting your case to an administrative judge. Each party also has the opportunity to conduct discovery to obtain additional information. At the end of the hearing, the judge will review the record and issue a decision about whether there was discrimination. In some cases, a federal employee may not need to request a hearing. Accordingly, hearings do not always happen as part of the federal EEOC complaint process. 5. Your Agency Issues a Final Decision Whether you choose a hearing or not, the final main step is your agency’s final decision. The agency will review the judge’s final order or the evidence from the investigation and notify you whether it found any discrimination. If there was discrimination, the agency may implement the judge’s orders or its own remedy. Because final decisions may not be in the employee’s favor, federal employees have the right to appeal a final agency action to the EEOC’s appellate division, the Office of Federal Operations (OFO). 6. Appealing to the EEOC You may appeal your agency’s decision to the OFO within 30 days of that decision. During the appeal process, the OFO will review the entire history of your complaint and the evidence in the record. The OFO will then issue its own determination of whether there was any discrimination. Having a federal EEOC lawyer is the best way to make sure your arguments are properly presented in this case. Contact a Federal EEOC Lawyer The federal EEOC complaint process looks long and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. The attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC have years of experience representing federal employees in a variety of employment matters. If you’ve suffered discrimination and need help with your EEOC complaint, we can help. Contact us today online or at (833) 833-3529 for a free consultation.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Harassment

Workplace Harassment: A Federal Employees’ Guide to Understanding Your Rights

Workplace harassment continues to be a problem at federal agencies, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reporting that most of the claims filed in 2019 were related to harassment. Federal employees should familiarize themselves with applicable harassment laws. These laws not only protect employees’ rights, but they can also potentially eliminate future incidents of harassment. If you believe you were the victim of workplace harassment while working in a federal government position, it’s time to contact an experienced federal workplace harassment attorney who can help. What Is Considered Harassment in the Workplace? Some people assume workplace harassment is just another term for sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment is only one type of workplace harassment that employees may suffer. Harassment can be verbal, psychological, physical, or in the form of online bullying.  Workplace harassment occurs anytime an employee suffers unwelcome or unwanted conduct based on: Race, Religion, Sex (including pregnancy), Color, National origin, Age (40 or older), Disability, or Genetic information. Harassment becomes illegal when the conduct creates an intimidating or hostile work environment or is offensive to reasonable people. There is a threshold test, whether the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive. Minor annoyances or petty slights will not typically rise to the level of unlawful workplace harassment. Examples of illegal workplace harassment include offensive jokes, physical assaults, racial slurs, intimidation, and conduct that interferes with work performance. Sexual harassment can include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, quid pro quo harassment, or other physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature. In many cases, sexual harassment is not overt or physical; it’s often masked in comments or banter, making future encounters uncomfortable and awkward. Sexual harassment victims can be female or male. They may even be the same sex as their harasser.  In 2019, sexual harassment claims accounted for 10.3% of the EEOC’s total complaints.  Harassment also includes retaliation for engaging in protected EEO activity. Anti-discrimination laws provide that harassment against people in retaliation for a filing a discrimination complaint or engaging in other protected EEO activity is illegal. This protected activity includes someone who has filed a discrimination charge or participated in an investigation, or other EEO-type proceedings, requested a reasonable accommodation, or provided testimony in another employee’s EEO complaint. Complaints involving retaliation comprise more than half of all complaints filed with the EEOC. Out of 72,675 complaints filed in 2019, 39,110 involved retaliation. When Are Employers Liable for Workplace Harassment? Federal employers can be held liable for workplace harassment even when they are not directly involved. An employer must take reasonable action to prevent any harassment in the workplace. If harassment has occurred, the employer must take swift corrective action. Federal agencies will be automatically liable for harassment by someone in a supervisory position that resulted in termination, loss of wages, failure to hire or promote, or other negative employment action. Suppose a supervisor’s alleged harassment resulted in a hostile work environment. In that case, the employer could be held responsible unless that employer can prove that it took appropriate preventative and corrective measures, and the involved employees did not follow the applicable policies. Harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees the employer controls, like a customer or independent contractor, is handled a bit differently. Employers are only held liable if they knew or should have known about the harassment and did not take swift and necessary corrective action. The best way to eliminate workplace harassment is to prevent it before it happens. Agencies should have an effective grievance or complaint process so that employees can report any unwanted conduct immediately. Speaking with employees about harassment and establishing anti-harassment training for both supervisory staff and employees are essential components of harassment prevention. What Can Employees Do About Harassment in the Workplace? When harassment occurs in the federal workplace, employees must take action to try and stop it. Employees can start by trying to resolve the issue at the lowest level, speaking directly with the person who has committed the harassment. It’s important to communicate that you find the behavior or words offensive. If the harassment continues, employees should follow the applicable reporting procedures for their employer. Report the conduct early on to keep it from escalating. Employees can also file a complaint with their agency’s EEO office, which eventually could come directly before the EEOC. Consult a Federal Employee Lawyer Today If you are the victim of federal workplace harassment, it may affect your work performance. The job you once loved may now be a source of extreme stress. You may experience difficulty sleeping, mood swings, or other symptoms as a result. Taking action to stop the unwanted conduct can help you feel better. Putting a stop to workplace harassment can protect you and your federal career that you’ve worked so hard for over the years.  Don’t let someone get away with workplace harassment. Speak with a skilled federal workplace harassment lawyer who can help you understand your legal options. At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, our focus is federal employee law, including workplace harassment. We can advise you on the best course of action and guide you through the process of reporting the unlawful harassment you have suffered. Our primary goals are to protect your rights and to make the harassment stop. Contact our office or give us a call at (833) 833-3529 to schedule an initial consultation or to speak with a federal workplace harassment attorney.

Continue Reading