Whether it be race, age, gender discrimination or sexual harassment, how an employee handles a discrimination issue from the beginning can make all the difference. It can impact not only your career but also the successfulness of a lawsuit should one become necessary. While there is no standard procedure that applies to all circumstances, there are a couple of common approaches to dealing with these thorny issues.
As a starting point, it is usually best to follow internal complaint procedures at your workplace, if there are any. At larger businesses, there may often be a specific procedure in an employee handbook or discrimination policy. This procedure may identify specific people to whom the complaint of discrimination or harassment should be directed. Following this reporting procedure can be very important to protect yourself against retaliation by placing the correct people on notice of your claims.
When there is no specific procedure for reporting discrimination the answer is less clear. If the discrimination or harassment is from a co-worker, there is usually little to be gained from confronting that individual directly. Instead, it is usually better to seek a supervisor or manager who has responsibility for that co-worker. However, if your supervisor is the person who is acting improperly, you may have to go to the next level of authority to report the problems or even directly to the owner.
If after following the internal procedure the situation remains unresolved and in situations where you have been terminated improperly, the next step is often to consult with an attorney in preparation for possibly filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). If you reside in Northern Alabama, the EEOC office is located in downtown Birmingham. Although you can file this charge without consulting an attorney, it is a good idea to meet with an attorney who handles employment litigation to ensure that your claims are properly described in the charge.
The EEOC process can be lengthy and it often takes months to reach a conclusion. Occassionally, there is an opportunity to mediate your claims (or work with an independent third party to try and negotiate a settlement) during this process. However, most employers fail to make a meaningful effort to resolve the claims at this stage. Once the EEOC has completed its investigation, it will either intervene in your case and file a lawsuit on your behalf or provide you a letter indicating that you have a right to sue your employer for discrimination. At this time, the EEOC typically provides 90 days from your receipt of this letter to file your lawsuit.
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