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Many people wait until after they leave the company before filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; however, there's nothing to stop you from filing what the federal agency calls a ''Charge of Discrimination'' while you're still employed. There are, however, some points to remember when you file a charge with the EEOC and things to be mindful of if you're still working for the company you allege has engaged in unfair employment practices.
The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces several anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The agency investigates claims on behalf of applicants and employees who believe they have been subject to discriminatory employment practices. Regardless of whether you're an applicant who wasn't hired, or a current or former employee, you are a "charging party" when you file a complaint with the EEOC.
Research the agency's website, which provides detailed instructions on filing a charge of discrimination. Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age, color, disability, genetic information, national origin, race, religion and sex. If you think you've been subject to any form of discrimination check the EEOC resources and then contact an EEOC intake officer, complete the online assessment or drop by the EEOC regional or district office nearest you.
Statute of Limitations
Don't wait until the last minute to file your charge. There's a statutory time within which you must file a complaint. It's understandable that you may be reluctant to rush to conclusions in alleging that your employer discriminated against you; however, leave that to EEOC representatives to determine. That's what they are hired to do. You have 180 days within which to file a charge of discrimination under the federal statutes, but if there's a companion state law, you could have up to 300 days to file your charge.
Assisting the EEOC
The best assistance you can give the EEOC during the investigative process is your attention to its requests for information, truthful and accurate statements and timely responses to the investigator's calls or written communication. You don't need to gather evidence from your employer's human resources department such as your personnel file or your application materials. Consistent with its enforcement authority, the agency can demand that your employer produce personnel records and other materials relevant to your charge of discrimination. If you have documentation that you maintain in a personal business file, tell the investigator the kind of documents you have that may augment your employer's records.
Once you file an EEOC charge, the HR department staff will know. If you work for a small company where news travels fast and indiscriminately, your supervisor and co-workers will know that you complained to the EEOC. Refrain from petitioning other employees to join you in the fight and don't discuss your EEOC charge at work. If someone asks you about the details of your charge, refer them to the HR department. Perform your job duties and don't remind your supervisor that you have a pending charge of discrimination because that will just destroy any semblance of a working relationship. But it's essential that you keep notes about incidents that the EEOC may consider retaliation. Ensure that you keep a private log in case your employer engages in retaliatory actions based on your discrimination charge.
The EEOC strongly recommends that employers develop anti-discrimination policies and steps for employees to report workplace issues. In addition, the agency commends employers who attempt to resolve employees' discrimination complaints informally before the employee consults the EEOC. If your company has an internal process for resolving workplace conflict, follow those steps and give the company an opportunity to resolve the matter without going the formal route. You're not obligated to pursue the informal route, but it could speak volumes of your interest and the company's interest in preserving the working relationship before it progresses to mediation or time-consuming and costly litigation.
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Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.