Workplace Discrimination: What Are Your Rights?
It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual on the basis of race, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, and other various factors. However, when discrimination occurs in the workplace, employees are often unsure of what, if anything, they can do. Below, we discuss the processes and procedures for addressing discrimination.
Internal Complaint Process - The company’s employee handbook should contain information regarding the process for initiating a formal complaint. If your company does not have an employee handbook or you are unclear if a formal complaint process exists, you should reach out to the human resources manager or the most senior employee you can get in touch with (that is not involved with the discriminatory act) to discuss the matter. You should then follow the proper procedure for filing a formal, internal complaint, at the very least advising them of the discriminatory conduct. You should then give the employer the opportunity to address your complaint—with you and/or with the offending employee.
If you are not satisfied with the actions taken by your company or if the company decides not to act on your internal complaint, the next step is to file a complaint with the branch of the federal government that oversees work place discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
EEOC Complaint Process
Gathering Evidence - Proving discrimination can be challenging. Very rarely do discriminatory acts occur blatantly, in front of others, or in writing. Therefore, it is important to memorialize and document every incident that you believe to be a discriminatory act. You should keep a record of the date, time, the person(s) involved and anyone that witnessed the incident. Also, keep copies of documentation regarding any internal complaints that you filed. It is important to show that you exhausted or attempted to exhaust your company’s internal complaint process prior to filing a complaint with the EEOC.
Filing Timeframe - Generally, the timeframe for filing an EEOC complaint is 180 days after the discriminatory act, and should be strictly adhered to. If state law also covers the discriminatory act committed by the employer, the timeframe is extended to 300 days.
How to File - You must file either the complaint by mail or in person. If you wish to file in person, you can do so at the EEOC office most convenient for you.
After Filing - After you file the complaint, an EEOC representative will contact you to interview you. If the EEOC representative believes that your case has merit, the representative will complete a Charge of Discrimination form that describes the discriminatory incident or series of incidents. The EEOC will then interview the employer to ascertain the employer’s position on, and role in, the discriminatory act. The EEOC will first try to mediate a settlement of the complaint between you and the employer. If a settlement cannot be reached, the EEOC will determine whether to file a lawsuit against the employer. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit, it will close the case. The employee then has 90 days to file a lawsuit against the employer in his or her own name.
If the EEOC does not act on your Complaint - If the EEOC does not act on your complaint within 180 days (and in most cases, it does not), you can ask for a Right to Sue Letter. This letter authorizes the employee to sue the employer in federal court.
Work place discrimination cases are complex and time consuming. Before initiating any sort of complaint process, an employee should consult with an experienced employment law attorney. If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, and need the assistance of an attorney to pursue a claim on your behalf, post a short summary of your legal issue on www.legalserviceslink.com, and let the perfect attorney come to you!
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