What to do if you are harassed or discriminated against at work

Bosses and co-workers are not allowed to discriminate against you or treat you badly on the basis of certain characteristics.

Federal law prohibits harassment at most workplaces related to: Race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information.

Examples of harassment include: A racial slur, an unwanted sexual advance, a job offer rescinded due to pregnancy, a firing due to age or demeaning jokes about a religion or disability.

It is also illegal for workplaces to retaliate against employees who complain about harassment or participate in an investigation or lawsuit, even if you are not the victim.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is the federal agency that investigates and prosecutes hostile workplace and discrimination complaints.

Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws. Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered.

If possible, take action quickly. Complaints against some workplaces are subject to time limits between 180 or 300 days from the latest incident. Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint process and time limits. There is more information about time limits at eeoc.gov/employees/timeliness.cfm.

Lawsuits against employers can result in: Financial restitution paid to victims, victims getting their jobs back, requirements that employers create anti-harassment workforce training, letters of apology and other penalties.  

A judge ordered a Phoenix Mexican restaurant, for example, to fire a manager and pay $220,000 total to six waitresses who accused him of years of sexual harassment. 

If you believe you have been harassed at your job, here are steps you can take to report the behavior, try to stop it and seek justice if the harassment doesn’t stop.

What to do if you are harassed at work

If a boss or co-worker is harassing you, follow this checklist from the EEOC:

How to file a complaint with the EEOC

If you have followed the above steps and the harassment has continued, here is how you can file a formal complaint with the EEOC:

Do it quickly. There are time limits for filing a charge. To learn more about timeliness, visit the EEOC’s website.

The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages and benefits.

The EEOC investigates harassment and discrimination related to: Race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information. It also enforces federal law that prohibits workplace retaliation if you file a complaint or participate in an investigation or lawsuit.

To file a complaint, ask questions or schedule a confidential appointment with an EEOC investigator:

Although drop-ins are welcome, the EEOC recommends scheduling an appointment online or by phone. Intake interviews in Phoenix are conducted between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day except Wednesdays.

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