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.
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.