Whether you’re currently a federal employee or you’re just trying to get a federal job, you’re protected by law from discrimination based on your religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, color or race, age, national origin, disability status, or genetic information.
You’re also protected from retaliation in the workplace based on any discrimination complaints you might personally file or participate in, or your opposition to employment discrimination. Here’s what you need to know about federal workplace discrimination and federal employee investigations.
Many Kinds of Discrimination Are Prohibited by Law
Laws enforced by the Equal Employment Office (EEO) prohibit many kinds of employment discrimination in the federal workplace. These include discrimination based on:
- Disability status
- Genetic information
- National origin
- Sex, including sex-based discrimination in benefits and pay, or discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation
- Race or color
Other types of discriminatory practices are also prohibited in the workplace. These include harassment and sexual harassment, retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint or standing up against discriminatory practices.
You Have the Right to File a Complaint
If you think that a federal agency has discriminated against you in the hiring process or on the job, you have the right to file a complaint with the EEO. To do so, you’ll need to get in touch with the EEO Counselor at your agency or the agency where you applied for employment. You have 45 days from the date the incident of discrimination occurred in which to file a complaint.
You’ll most likely be given the choice of either participating in EEO counseling or in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program. If you find that you cannot settle your dispute in one of these two ways, you have the right to file a formal complaint with the agency’s EEO Office.
How to File a Formal Complaint
You have to file a formal complaint within 15 days of receiving your EEO notice from your counselor. You’ll get this notice after your final interview with the EEO Counselor. You have to file a formal complaint at the same EEO Office where you got counseling.
Your 15-day deadline will be calculated in calendar days, starting from the day after you get the notice. If the 15th day turns out to be a weekend day or a federal holiday, then the last day you’ll have to file your formal complaint will fall on the next
business day. Your agency must give you time during work hours to get your complaint ready. If you don’t think you’re being given a reasonable amount of time during work hours to prepare your complaint, contact your agency’s EEO Director or EEO Office of Federal Operations.
Your formal complaint should include:
- Your name and contact information, including address and telephone number
- A brief description of the discriminatory events
- A brief explanation of why you feel you were discriminated against, for example, because of your age, sex, gender identity, or for retaliatory purposes
- A brief description of any injury you sustained as a result of the discrimination
- Your signature, or that of your attorney
What to Expect Once Your Formal Complaint Is Filed
Once you’ve filed your formal complaint, you should receive a letter confirming its receipt. Your agency will review the complaint to make sure it has been filed on time and that all the required elements are present. Then the federal employee investigation will begin.
If the agency does dismiss your complaint for any reason, you have 30 days from the date you get the dismissal to file an appeal. However, your agency may dismiss part of your complaint but choose to investigate the rest. If this happens, you will need to wait until you receive your agency’s final order on all your claims before appealing the part that was dismissed.
What to Expect from the Investigation
Your agency has 180 days from the date you filed your complaint to complete the investigation of your claims. If you must add new events to your complaint or file new complaints that need to be added to your original complaint, the agency may extend the investigation by another 180 days. In any case, your agency may ask you to agree to an extension of up to 90 days.
Your federal employee investigation will be handled by an agency investigator. He or she is responsible for gathering information and evidence about your complaint. The investigator only gathers the information needed to decide whether or not you were the victim of workplace discrimination. He or she will not decide the outcome of your case.
If your agency doesn’t finish investigating your complaint within 180 days, you have a few choices. You can:
- Wait for the agency to finish its investigation
- Ask for a hearing
- File a lawsuit in federal district court
If you ask for a hearing, your complaint will be turned over to an EEO Administrative Judge.
How to Request a Hearing
If you decide you’d like to ask for a hearing regarding your complaint, you must do so within 30 days of receiving notice from the agency regarding your hearing rights. An EEOC Administrative Judge will conduct the hearing. He or she will then make a decision regarding your complaint, and if he or she finds that you were the victim of discrimination, he or she may order some form of compensation or relief.
Once your agency has received the judge’s decision, they will issue a final order that will confirm whether or not the agency agrees with the judge and if they will comply with the ordered relief. This should be issued within 40 days of the judge’s decision. The final order should also contain further information about your rights.
How to File an Appeal
If your agency’s final order finds that you were not the victim of discrimination or dismisses your complaint, you can file an appeal with the EEOC Office of Federal Operations. You have 30 days after your receipt of the final order to file your appeal. Once you have done so, EEOC appellate attorneys will go over it, and the EEOC will issue an appeal decision. If you don’t agree with the appeal decision, and you can prove that the appeal decision was based on a mistake, you can apply for a reconsideration of your appeal decision. You must do so within 30 days of receiving your appeal decision.
Contact Melville Johnson, P.C.: MSPB and Federal Employment Attorneys
If you have been the victim of discrimination as a federal employee or job applicant, you have rights. An attorney can help you navigate the complaints process. At Melvin Johnson, P.C., our attorneys have successfully litigated a wide variety of federal cases across the nation — with a special focus on issues involving federal employee EEO claims at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Merit Systems Protection Board.
If you believe you have been a victim of workplace discrimination speak to our federal employment lawyers now to learn more about the rights afforded to you by federal law. Call us at 888.594.0424 or complete our online contact form to get started.