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Harassment takes many forms and can include physical or verbal conduct related to your race, sex, age, disability, gender identity, national origin or sexual orientation. Workplace harassment is illegal in the federal workplace when it creates a severely hostile work environment or when your job is in jeopardy because of it. Pervasive harassment or unwanted hostility from a supervisor that results in your demotion or termination constitutes actions that you can take steps to stop.
Document Instances of Harassment
Before you bring the issue to management, you should carefully document every detail about the harassment. While you don’t have to wait until the actions are repeated, the more details you can present to your supervisor, or a lawyer, the better chance you have of making a case. To bring a complaint of harassment when you work for the government, you must be a member of a protected class and the actions or words were directly related to that class. You have a case if the harassment causes a change in your employment status or if you believe the workplace has become hostile as a result of the experience.
Talk to Your Supervisor
Bring the complaint directly to your managing supervisor. Even if the problem doesn’t rise to the level of harassment as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), supervisors in federal agencies are directed to treat any behavior that creates a hostile work environment as misconduct. Your supervisor is then supposed to investigate your allegations and take prompt remedial action to fix the problem either by talking to the person creating the disturbance or taking other disciplinary actions.
Report to EEO Representative
Every office, agency and department in the federal government has a designated EEO representative. In lieu of talking to your supervisor, or when it’s your manager who’s creating the hostile environment, you should report the incident to that EEO officer. Your complaint will then be documented and an inquiry begun. Diversity training might ensue or the offending party may be dismissed. You’ll receive a report once the EEO manager investigates your claim and, at that time, you can take further steps if you are not satisfied with the outcome.
Follow Up with an Attorney
If the action taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity manager and your own supervisor do not render satisfactory results, you can file an appeal with U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. If you lost your job, were demoted or transferred after making a complaint, you may contact an attorney who specializes in federal employment law before making the appeal. You also can file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel and invoke whistle-blower protection, in which case an attorney can guide you through the processes.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
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