Unfortunately, even in the federal workplace, employees at times face unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Yet, many federal employees are unaware of exactly how to assert their EEO rights. This article provides a brief overview of how federal employees may file an EEO complaint and when they should do so.

What is considered an EEO violation?

Generally, an EEO violation is an action against an employee because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age (if over the age of 40). These are what is known as “protected categories.” Another form of EEO violation is retaliation against an employee for opposing unlawful discrimination or participating in a complaint based on unlawful discrimination, which is known as “protected activity.”

The types of actions that can be considered EEO violations include removal, suspension, and other forms of disciplinary action; non-selection for a position of employment or promotion; unequal treatment in the terms and conditions of employment; harassment; and creation of a hostile work environment.

The key to whether an action is considered an EEO violation is the supervisor’s intent, or motivation. Every day, supervisors take various actions against employees in federal agencies all around the country for a variety of reasons. But only those actions that are taken because of discrimination based on one of the above protected categories or retaliation for protected activity are considered EEO violations.

How to initiate an EEO complaint.

The first step for an employee to file an EEO complaint is to simply contact the EEO office in the employee’s agency. This is sometimes referred to as an “informal complaint.” There is no formal process or form required. Even a phone call can suffice, although it is best to put the complaint in writing.

Every federal agency is required to have EEO counselors who are trained and prepared to receive EEO complaints. To initiate a complaint, an employee must contact the appropriate EEO personnel in his or her agency and clearly articulate that they have been the victim of an EEO violation and wish to initiate a complaint.

Ideally, an informal complaint should be made in writing and, if possible, with proof of receipt (such as an email). In the written complaint, the employee should describe the discrimination or retaliation in detail and expressly state that they are requesting to file an EEO complaint. The informal complaint should be as thorough as possible, including every protected category and every incident of discrimination.

The filing of the informal complaint initiates the EEO complaint process and preserves the employee’s claims for further investigation and adjudication.

When to initiate an EEO complaint.

Generally, to bring an EEO complaint a federal employee must initiate the complaint process within 45 days of the conduct or incident at issue. If an employee does not contact the EEO office within 45 days they may lose the right to ever bring a claim, though there are some exceptions to this requirement. Given this short time limitation, the best approach is to begin the complaint process as soon as possible after the incident of discrimination or retaliation.

What happens next?

After an employee contacts their EEO office and submits an informal complaint, the agency is required to engage in a counseling process. This ordinarily consists of interviews with the individuals involved and an effort by the agency to work out an amicable resolution to the situation. In some cases, there may be a mediation or other Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) session.

The counseling process has to be completed within 30 days (unless the employee agrees to extend this time period). After the counseling process is completed, if there has not been an agreed resolution, the counselor will issue a written notice to the employee of their right to file a formal complaint of discrimination.

The formal complaint is the next step in the EEO complaint process. But it all starts with the initial contact with the EEO office and submission of an informal complaint.

If in doubt, consult with an attorney.

The federal sector EEO complaint process can be confusing. If an employee waits too long, contacts the wrong office, or files the wrong type of complaint, they can lose their rights. Any federal employee who thinks they may have been the victim of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation should contact a knowledgeable federal employment attorney immediately.

The attorneys of Bramnick Creed, LLC have a deep knowledge of federal employment law and extensive experience in representing federal employees. For more information about our federal employment practice or to contact us, go to our website at www.BramnickCreed.com or contact Attorney Joe Creed at (301) 760-3344 or JCreed@BramnickCreed.com