Federal Employees and the EEO Process

By: Attorney Ryan Hicks

Like state and/or private sector employees, federal employees – whether it be government, agency, or military – also have equal employment protections. Seeking such protection, however, works very differently…

As a principal matter, federal employees do not directly file their complaint(s) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state commission, if applicable. Rather, they must first contact an EEO Counselor within their designated employer – every federal employer has some form of an equal employment complaint processing branch. While the filing timeline for any employee to file a discrimination complaint is already limited, it is even more the case for federal employees. In fact, a federal employee must make contact with an EEO counselor within 45 days of the date of the alleged discriminatory matter; failure to do so is likely a waiver of that claim.

The EEO counselor has 30-days (that may be extended to 60) to attempt to reach a resolution of the complaint (i.e. informal counseling). Alternatively, the employee may be able to seek resolution through an alternative dispute resolution program, which may take up to 90 days. Regardless, if informal counseling/mediation is unsuccessful, the EEO counselor will issue a notice of right to file a formal complaint. The employee then has 15 days to file a formal EEO complaint.

Formal EEO becomes an even more complicated process, which includes: (1) an investigator being assigned; (2) a record of investigation (ROI) being prepared; and (3) the right to request a hearing before an EEO Administrative Judge or to receive a Final Agency Decision without a hearing. Requesting a hearing before an EEO Judge as well as directly requesting a Final Agency Decision without a hearing both have pros and cons; there are also specific timelines applicable to both options. Both avenues also have various appellate processes should you disagree with the findings.

Ultimately, federal EEO is a complicated process that is extremely time sensitive and fact specific. If you are a federal employee who has concerns that you have been discriminated against, I recommend consulting with a lawyer as soon as possible. At CBPH, we help federal employees navigate the EEO system.

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