You have the right to work in the United States without harassment or discrimination. Unfortunately, simply having the right doesn’t always mean that your rights are properly enforced. If you are being harassed at work or illegally discriminated against in your workplace, you are rightfully able to assert your rights and take the necessary steps to do so. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discrimination of workers based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.
Legal decisions over the years have determined that this includes pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Additional protections are offered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you feel you have been discriminated against by your company based on one of the criteria above, you can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. It is also possible for an agency or organization to file a complaint on your behalf.
The necessary procedures for filing a charge, or formal EEOC complaint, is outlined on the EEOC’s website. The process for how to write a complaint letter to the EEOC includes the following steps:
Step 1 – Follow Company Protocol
Harassment can be an ugly business, but before you start writing complaint letters to government agencies, you should follow your company’s protocol for complaints. Even though this step can feel awkward or that you might be inviting additional retaliation in the short term, it is imperative for future complaints at higher levels that you started within the company’s framework.
Typically this process should be outlined in an employee handbook. If you are unable to find the right process, or your company doesn’t have a handbook, visit with the human resources department to express your concern about the lack of a proper policy as well as your actual complaint.
Step 2 – Prepare to Involve the EEOC
If you aren’t satisfied with the response of your company, your next step is to approach formal agencies. You may file a charge or complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.
There are very clear procedures for how to file an EEOC complaint that should simplify this process. It is, however, important to note that there are often time limits on complaints. This means you must not only gather information and evidence quickly but follow through according to the EEOC’s timeframe to successfully file a complaint.
Step 3 – Determine Logistics for Writing a Complaint Letter to EEOC
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal entity, but you will not find a federal office building near your place of work. This is because the EEOC agency offices are state and local agencies that are representatives of the EEOC. While you can legally file a complaint in any office, it is best to find the EEOC agency closest to your workplace in order to file your claim.
You can determine the closest location through www.eeoc.gov. Additionally, you will have to determine the appropriate timeframe for your complaint letter to EEOC. Some states allow 300 days after discrimination has occurred to file a complaint. Others allow only 180 days. It is best to act within the 180 days, preferably sooner.
Discrimination also can be a pattern that develops over more than 180 days. If this is your situation, consult with a legal representative to determine your best course of action, but a standard approach is to file the complaint within 180 days of the event that made it clear a pattern was developing.
Step 4 – Organize Your Evidence
Discrimination and harassment do not usually stem from a single event. This makes it imperative to track and organize evidence as quickly as you realize a pattern is developing. This will also start the timer on filing an EEOC claim. Organize your information including as many dates, times, individuals involved and the nature of the activities in your personal files.
Keep paperwork that supports your claim in your personal files as well including performance reviews and disciplinary notices. Filing a complaint is a highly emotional matter, but the more preparation you are able to do and the more professionally you are able to present your case, the more likely it is that the EEOC representatives will dedicate its full attention to the matter.
Step 5 – Write an EEOC Complaint Letter
In order to legally pursue a claim, the EEOC complaint procedure requires a letter to be submitted by mail or in person with the following criteria: Your name, address and telephone number
- The name, address and contact information including a phone number for the employer you are filing against.
- The number of employees at the place of work you’re filing against.
- A short description of the events that you feel discriminated against you.
- Dates for the events that took place.
- A statement or short paragraph describing why you feel you were discriminated against. This might be race, pregnancy, gender, religion, age, etc.
- Your signature.
It is important that you sign your complaint letter to EEOC, as the EEOC is not able to proceed without your legal signature on the letter.
Additionally, you can see a portion of a sample of complaint letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided by the website, reentry.net. Information specific to the individual and company involved have been redacted.
The following is another sample pulled from an open letter to the EEOC which offers a sample letter on racial discrimination at work. The full text of the letter can be found here.
Also, you can download a sample complaint letter to the EEOC below.
Step 6 – Work with the EEOC
After your file an EEOC complaint letter, you can expect a few things to happen. The first is an interview with the staff lawyer or the investigator who is handling your complaint. This should happen within 180 days after you have filed the letter.
This is also the time that the lawyer will advise you on the case including discussing whether or not you actually have a case according to the legal parameters of Title VII. If the interviewer feels you have a case, you will receive an EEOC Charge of Discrimination form to review and sign.
Read this form carefully – especially the parts that summarize or state your initial complaint to be sure the language is accurate. The EEOC should then interview the individuals involved at your place of work and try to mediate a settlement before you and your company.
Step 7 – Follow Up As Needed
While the process of your EEOC complaint should go smoothly, the EEOC does get bogged down with a heavy caseload and plenty of bureaucracy. This means the whole process can take up to three years. You may also need to follow-up with the investigator periodically to be sure the case is moving forward.
Remember that you are not limited by the EEOC after you have filed an EEOC complaint. You can retain the services of a lawyer to consider additional legal action and you can continue working through the company or other forms of mediation and problem-solving.
As the EEOC takes a very small percentage of cases to trial, a lawyer you’ve retained may also guide you through the process of requesting a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC that authorizes you to act in federal court against the employer, should the EEOC not resolve your case in a timely or satisfactory manner.
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