What To Expect When You File an EEO Complaint As a Federal Employee

February 24, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

As a federal employee, you can—and should—take legal action when the government violates your legal rights. Federal employees are entitled to strong protections, and, while you shouldn’t have to worry about harassment or discrimination as a federal employee, the unfortunate reality is that these issues are pervasive in all types of workplaces across the country.

In most cases, taking a stand against improper employment practices in the federal sector starts with filing an EEO complaint. If you think you may have an EEO complaint, this article provides an overview of what you need to know.

Eligibility to File an EEO Complaint As a Federal Employee

Federal employees are eligible to file EEO complaints when they experience discrimination on the job. This includes sexual harassment (which is considered a form of sex-based discrimination), retaliation, denial of reasonable accommodations, and all other forms of unjustified adverse employment action.

If you have a complaint that is not discrimination-related, then you may need to file your complaint with an office or agency other than the EEOC. For example, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) handles complaints related to other types of prohibited personnel practices (i.e., wrongful disciplinary actions), and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) handles complaints under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and various other statutes. In some cases, federal employees must begin by filing complaints with their agencies or using their agencies’ negotiated grievance procedures as well.

But, assuming you have a complaint for harassment or discrimination, your first step is to talk to a lawyer about filing an EEO complaint. You have the right to legal representation when filing an EEO complaint, and hiring an experienced lawyer will give you the best chance of achieving the outcome you deserve.

The Process for Filing an EEO Complaint as a Federal Employee

The process of filing an EEO complaint starts with contacting your agency’s EEO Counselor. To preserve your ability to pursue a claim, you must generally do so within 45 days of experiencing the harassment or discrimination that forms the basis for your complaint.

Contacting Your Agency’s EEO Counselor

When you contact your agency’s EEO Counselor (or when you have a lawyer contact your agency’s EEO Counselor for you), you will most likely be given two options. One option will be to participate in EEO counseling. This is an informal process in which the EEO counselor gathers information from you and then works to resolve your complaint as a neutral third party. The other option will be to participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which is most commonly mediation. Mediation is more structured than the informal resolution process, but there is still no guarantee that it will result in a satisfactory outcome.

Whichever option you choose, it is important to have an advocate on your side. If it is possible to secure a favorable result through your agency’s informal process or ADR, then doing so will most likely be your quickest and most cost-efficient option. With that said, you also need to be very careful to avoid settling for less than you deserve. When you hire a lawyer, your lawyer can advise and represent you throughout the process, and your lawyer can help you make informed decisions about if and when to consider a settlement.

Filing a Formal Complaint

Regardless of the option you choose, if this pre-complaint process proves unsuccessful, your agency’s EEO Counselor should conduct a final interview and then provide you with instructions for filing a formal complaint with your agency’s EEO Office. Depending on the circumstances, you will then have either 30, 60 or 90 days to file a. If the EEO Counselor does not conduct your final interview in a timely manner, you may not have to wait (and waiting could potentially be risky), and you will want to consult with your lawyer about what to do in this scenario.

Once you file a formal EEO complaint, your agency’s EEO Office has 180 days to conduct an investigation—unless it dismisses your complaint outright, which does happen in some cases. Here, too, it is important to have a lawyer involved to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays and that the investigation is conducted in a fair and impartial manner. Following the investigation, you will again have a choice of two options. You can either: (i) request a hearing before an Administrative Judge at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); or, (ii) request that your agency issue a decision on your complaint.

This is a strategic decision that requires a clear understanding of the relevant facts and the relevant law. If it appears likely that a decision would be in your favor, then requesting a decision may be the best approach. However, if your agency denies your claim, then requesting a decision could just further delay the process of achieving the outcome you deserve. Once again, you will want to consult with your lawyer to ensure that you are making the best decision.

Filing an Appeal if Necessary

Whether you request an EEOC hearing or an agency decision, an unfavorable outcome is not the end of your case. If you receive an unfavorable decision, your lawyer can file an appeal. In an ideal scenario, this will not be necessary. But, sometimes federal employees need to go to court, and, while this takes time, it will ultimately be worth it if it means holding your federal agency accountable for harassment or discrimination.

Contact Us for More Information About Filing an EEO Complaint

If you need to know more about filing an EEO complaint for harassment or discrimination as a federal employee, we encourage you to contact us promptly. If you have a claim, you only have a limited amount of time to assert your legal rights. To speak with an experienced federal employment attorney in confidence as soon as possible, please call 410-514-6099 or request an appointment online today.