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How does a federal job discrimination complaint work?

There are federal laws that protect employees of federal agencies and those applying to work at them from discrimination. That means federal employers can't discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, age, disability, sex, and other protected bases. It is also against the law to retaliate against you if you file a discrimination complaint or refuse to go along with discrimination against a fellow employee.

If you work at a federal job or applied for one, it is your right to file a complaint if you believe you are a victim of discrimination. The first person you will need speak with is an EEO counselor for the federal agency in question. You must do so within 45 days from the date of discrimination. Typically, the counselor will offer you the chance to take part in EEO counseling or a program designed to resolve the dispute, such as mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution.

If you don't resolve the dispute, you have a limited number of days to file a formal complaint with the EEO office. Once you file the complaint, the agency will determine whether it meets certain specifications. It could be dismissed, for instance, for being filed past the deadline.

If the complaint is accepted, the agency will investigate your complaint. It has 180 days to do so. Once that process is complete, the agency will give you the choice of requesting a hearing before an administrative judge or asking the agency to review the file to see whether discrimination took place. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal to the EEOC or challenge it in federal court -- at which point the process can get even more complex.

The EEOC process can be lengthy and cumbersome. If you think you have a claim of discrimination, you should consider consulting with an attorney familiar with federal employment law

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