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Federal EEO process: Filing a formal EEO complaint

Federal EEO process; Step 1: Informal counseling (30 days) or ADR (varies); Step 2: File a formal complaint (15 days); Step 3: Investigation (180 days); Step 4: Request a hearing or a FAD (30 days)

You just received a Notice of Right to File a Formal Complaint from your federal agency’s EEO counselor.  The notice explains that informal counseling has concluded and that you have the right to file a formal complaint of discrimination.  You have 15 days to file.  Here’s what you need to know about the second step in the federal EEO process — filing a formal EEO complaint:

What is a formal EEO complaint?

When you request informal counseling, you’re basically telling the agency that you may file a complaint, that you’re considering whether to file.  However, the formal complaint is the complaint itself.  It is an official written complaint of illegal discrimination or retaliation.  The formal complaint should include all of your claims and explain how the agency violated the law.  The date you file the formal complaint sets important deadlines in your case and prompts the agency to take actions pursuant to federal law and regulation.

When do I have to file the complaint?

You must file your formal EEO complaint within 15 calendar days of receiving the Notice of Right to File.  The notice should tell you how to file the complaint.  For example, some agencies may require you to file the complaint by mail; others may be willing to accept the complaint by fax or email.  If you must file by mail, the postmark date is usually considered the date of filing.  In other words, your complaint may be dismissed as late if you put it in the mail drop box after business hours on the 15th day.  If possible, save a copy of the filing email, fax confirmation, or a photocopy of the postmarked envelope so you have proof of the filing date.

How to write a formal EEO complaint

Next, let’s cover what you should include in the complaint. The EEO counselor usually provides a formal complaint form with the Notice of Right to File.  If you don’t get a complaint form, ask the EEO counselor for one.  The complaint form requires you to provide the following information:

  • Your contact information
  • Your employment information (g., title, grade, series, duty station)
  • Agency information
  • Names and titles of the person(s) who discriminated or retaliated against you
  • The basis/bases of the discrimination (g., age, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, prior EEO activity)
  • The dates of the discriminatory actions
  • A description of the discriminatory actions
  • Your damages

What happens after I file?

Within a few weeks, the Agency should send you a letter acknowledging that it received your complaint.  Next, the Agency should send a letter telling you if it accepted your claims for investigation.  If the Agency dismisses any of your claims, the letter should explain your right to appeal the dismissal.

The Agency must complete an investigation of any accepted claims within 180 days of the date you filed your formal complaint.

Do I need an attorney to file my formal complaint?

Federal employees don’t have to have an attorney to file an EEO complaint.  However, consulting or retaining an experienced employment attorney can increase your chances of success.  Your attorney should work with you to draft your complaint, ensuring that it properly identifies your claims and includes all necessary information.  For example, a lawyer can ensure that your complaint specifies whether you are alleging that the agency discriminated against you by taking an adverse employment action or by subjecting you to a hostile work environment.  If you’re claiming retaliation for prior EEO activity, your lawyer will make sure you properly identify your prior protected activity.

Your attorney will also advocate for you if the Agency improperly dismisses your claims, fails to meet processing deadlines, or violates other EEO procedures and rules.

If you are filing an EEO complaint, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help.  We can advise you about what information to include in your complaint and when and how to file.  Our attorneys represent federal employees throughout the EEO process, at hearings before EEOC administrative judges, in appeals before the Office of Federal Operations, and in federal litigation of discrimination and retaliation cases.

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Discrimination Federal Employees Hostile Work Environment Law Retaliation Sexual Harassment Wrongful Termination


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