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How federal employees can fight back against mistreatment at work

Just like workers in the private sector, employees of the federal government have the right to a workplace free from illegal discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation for whistleblowing and wrongful termination. But the way that federal workers enforce these rights is different than for non-government employees, and the process is often highly complex.

The process begins with a complaint

As in the private sector, usually, the first step after experiencing discrimination as a federal employee or job applicant is to file a complaint. For federal workers, the complaint must go to a counselor at the agency’s equal employment opportunity (EEO) office. Most agencies impose a time limit of 45 days after the incident to file a complaint.

Trying to work it out outside of court

Once you file the complaint with a counselor, they will usually offer you two choices to try to solve the problem: counseling or an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation. While many federal workers and employers resolve their disputes at this stage, often these informal methods fail. If they do not work in your case, you have 15 days to file a formal complaint with the EEO office.

The office will then investigate. When its investigation is done, the EEO office will contact you and offer you the choice of a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) administrative law judge or have the office issue a decision on its own whether your employer violated your rights.

A lawsuit is often needed

If you disagree with the final decision, you can appeal to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal court. Litigation is often necessary to resolve these disputes and expose discrimination and other illegal conduct. It can take time and effort but can result in substantial compensation and help restore your career.