Workplace discrimination remains a serious issue. In fiscal year 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 76,000 charges of discrimination. Many of the private employees and applicants involved in those charges would have had months to consider filing a discrimination complaint.

For federal employees, however, the rules are different. Anyone working for the federal government or applying for a job with a federal agency has just a fraction of the time to make this big decision. This deadline also applies to failure to hire claims or failure to promote as well as some cases involving discrimination against employees of federal contractors who are directly supervised by federal employees.

Federal employees and applicants get 45 days

If you work for the federal government or for a federal contractor and are supervised by a federal employee and you believe you were discriminated against, you must act quickly. The law generally gives you just 45 days (barring a few select exemptions) to report the improper behavior and pursue a discrimination claim.

This initial notice must go to an equal employment opportunity counselor that is part of the agency in question. This move then triggers a series of administrative stages that the EEOC and the Agency follow to investigate and process the claim.

Within 30 days of your report, the counselor has to set up a counseling session. The goal is to resolve your complaint before moving to the formal charge stage. In some cases, this 30-day period might be extended if you agree to prolong the discussion, or if you want to try alternative dispute resolution.

If the sides can’t come to an agreement, the counselor should notify you of your right to file a formal charge, and you then must file a formal charge within 15 days.

The formal complaint process

If you move forward with a formal complaint, you will kickstart the discrimination charge process. This will often lead to:

  • A formal investigation
  • A proposed resolution
  • A hearing, if you request one
  • A final action

If you are not happy with the outcome, there are opportunities to file an appeal or proceed to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Everything about the federal discrimination complaint process is quite regimented. If you’re thinking about filing a charge, it is vital you follow the process to a T. Any slip-up can be costly, but maybe none more so than missing that very first deadline.

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