Most of the time, everyday activities leave you with only a vague sense of the differences between federal and state law. In high school civics class, you may have learned that most of the laws with which you interact directly are state laws; for example, Alabama has its own traffic laws and child support guidelines. You may have read about criminal cases in which defendants were tried in federal court or served sentences in federal prison. If your employer is an agency operated by the federal government, you have recourse to some procedures for protecting yourself against employment discrimination that are specific to federal employees. If you are a federal employee and you have experienced discrimination or other unfair treatment at work, contact the Alabama federal employee EEOC lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Employment Discrimination in the Public and Private Sectors
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 set the framework for defining employment discrimination and the guidelines for preventing it, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was the first law to deal comprehensively with discrimination based on disability. Both of these are federal laws that apply to employees of the private and public sectors in all 50 states. Regardless of whether your employer is a federal agency, a state, county, or municipal government entity, or a privately owned company, your employer is legally prohibited from discriminating against you based on any of the following protected characteristics:
- Race, color, ethnic background, or country of origin
- Sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender presentation
- Religious belief and observance or lack thereof
- Age, if you are at least 40 years old
- Marital status, pregnancy, or being a parent
- Disability, which can be temporary or permanent and physical or psychological
The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observances and disabilities. Employers must make these accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer; the larger the company and its budget, the more resources the law assumes it has to accommodate employees. The law also forbids employers from retaliating against employees for requesting accommodations. Reasonable accommodations for religious observances could mean allowing a Catholic employee to report to work an hour later than usual on Ash Wednesday so that he can attend Mass before work, or letting a Muslim employee to take 10-minute breaks at prayer times.
Reasonable accommodations for a disability vary according to the nature of the disability; they could include anything from providing a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee during conference calls to allowing an employee who has difficulty sitting for extended periods because of a medical condition to take more frequent breaks. These are only a few types of accommodations that employees might request; whether the accommodation is reasonable depends on whether it would enable the employee to do their job more easily and whether it would not place an unfair financial burden on the employer.
In addition to retaliation for requests for reasonable accommodations, employers may not retaliate against employees for complaining about discrimination or for participating in an investigation related to employment discrimination or employer misconduct.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) helps federal employees handle discrimination complaints against their employers. Federal employees have a short deadline, namely 45 days after the incident of discrimination happened, to contact the EEOC about possibly filing a complaint. If you do not contact the EEOC before this deadline, your complaint will be dismissed. Even though you must act quickly to start the process of filing a complaint you should contact an Alabama employment discrimination lawyer even before you contact the EEOC.
Here is how the process of filing a discrimination complaint works for employees of federal agencies:
- No more than 45 days after the discrimination occurs, the employee contacts the EEOC to initiate an informal pre-complaint. To prevent dismissal of your complaint as being too late, indicate a specific incident as the focus of your complaint. Discrimination is often an ongoing pattern, but for purposes of your EEOC pre-complaint filed on May 30, you should focus your complaint on the unjustifiably negative performance review you received on May 15 or the disparaging remarks your supervisor made about you on May 1. It is best to contact the Alabama employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP and have them review your initial email before you send it to the EEOC.
- You agree with the EEOC that you are ready to file a formal complaint. Your filing of this complaint begins an investigation by the EEOC.
- You and your employer present your respective sides of the story at one or more hearings before an Administrative Law Judge.
- If the hearings fail to resolve the issue, you may file an employment discrimination lawsuit against your employer in U.S. District Court.
Merit System Protection Board Complaints
Another resource available to some federal employees who experience discrimination or retaliation in the workplace is the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB). Whether you have the right to appeal adverse actions taken against you by your employer with the MSPB depends on your job description and history of military service. Military veterans who hold civilian jobs at federal agencies automatically have MSPB rights, as do certain categories of employees working for agencies belonging to the executive branch of the federal government. If you have MSPB rights, your employer must give you written notice of these rights before taking adverse action against you. Some of the most common types of appealable adverse actions for which the MSPB receives appeals are demotions, suspensions, furloughs, and wrongful termination of employment.
Contact an Alabama Employment Lawyer About Workplace Discrimination at Federal Jobs
Federal employees have the right to file employment discrimination lawsuits as long as they have correctly followed the complaint procedures specific to federal agencies, and an Alabama employment lawyer can help you navigate the process of fighting discrimination at your federal job. Contact the Alabama FMLA lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.