Discrimination and Harassment at Your Job

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect employees and job applicants against:

  • Discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment in the workplace by anyone because of:
    • Race
    • Color
    • Religion
    • Sex (including gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation)
    • Pregnancy
    • National origin
    • Age (40 or older)
    • Disability
    • Genetic information
  • Being denied reasonable workplace accommodations for disability or religious beliefs
  • Retaliation because they:
    • Complained about job discrimination
    • Helped with an investigation or lawsuit

Not All Employers Are Subject to EEOC Laws

An employer must have a certain number of employees to be covered by EEOC-enforced laws. This number varies based on the type of employer and the kind of discrimination alleged.

  • Businesses, state, and local governments must follow most EEOC laws if they have 15 or more employees.
  • Federal agencies must follow all EEOC laws, no matter how many employees they have.

Filing a Charge with the EEOC

If you are being harassed or discriminated against, you can file a charge with the EEOC. In most cases, you must file within 180 days of the event. You can:

  • File a charge online through the EEOC public portal.
  • File a charge through the closest EEOC field office.
  • Contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 or info@eeoc.gov to learn about the filing process.

Federal employees and job applicants have different complaint procedures.

Filing a Complaint with State or Local Government or Tribal Employment Rights Office

Many state and local governments have their own anti-discrimination laws. These laws may offer extra protections beyond federal laws.

Some state laws:

  • Apply to businesses with only five or six employees
  • Prohibit discrimination based on whether you’re married or have children
  • Have different deadlines for filing a charge
  • Have different standards for deciding whether you’re covered by them

To file a complaint, find your state, local. or tribal employment rights office:

  • Enter your zip code or choose from the list to find your nearest EEOC field office.
    • Select “State and Local Agencies” from the office information list in the box on the left.

Many state laws have more protections for nursing mothers than federal law requires. State labor offices enforce these laws.

Filing a Lawsuit

If you’re a victim of job discrimination or harassment, you can file a lawsuit. If the discrimination violates federal law, you must first file a charge with the EEOC. (This doesn’t apply to cases of unequal pay between men and women.)

You may decide to sue if the EEOC can’t help you. In either case, look for an attorney who specializes in employment law. You can check with:

  • Your EEOC field office
  • American Bar Association
  • National Employment Lawyers Association

Laws that the EEOC Enforces

Federal employment discrimination laws include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – prohibiting discrimination against workers with disabilities and mandating reasonable accommodations
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) – prohibiting discrimination based on:
    • Race
    • Color
    • Religion
    • National origin
    • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity). Learn more about harassment and discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.
  • The Equal Pay Act (EPA) – requiring equal pay for equal work by men and women


Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

It can include:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Physical assaults or threats
  • Ridicule or insults
  • Display of offensive objects or pictures

Sexual harassment may include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
  • Offensive remarks about a person’s sex

Harassment becomes illegal when:

  • It creates a hostile or abusive work environment
  • The victim gets fired or demoted for refusing to put up with it

Protection from Retaliation

EEOC laws protect employees and job applicants from retaliation. For example, it’s unlawful to punish people for:

  • Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge or investigation
  • Talking to a supervisor or manager about discrimination or harassment
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others

Employment Background Checks

Local, state, or federal government agencies and private employers may perform background checks when they hire an employee.

The FBI has contact information for the state agencies that conduct background checks. 

Request a Copy of a Federal Background Check or an Identification Record

The FBI website has information on how to request a federal background check or an identification record request.

Following the information on how to request a federal background check, you’ll find information on how to challenge inaccurate or incomplete information that appears on your record.

Arrest Records

If you are looking for information on arrest records, contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor law that allows an eligible employee to take an extended leave of absence from work due to:

  • Illness
  • Caring for a qualifying sick family member
  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • Military caregiving or other emergencies related to a family member’s active duty service

This unpaid leave is guaranteed by law and is available to workers at companies with 50 or more employees. FMLA fact sheets can help you understand your rights and coverage.

Questions or Reporting a Violation of the FMLA

If you have unanswered questions about the FMLA or you believe someone has violated your rights under FMLA, contact the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for assistance.

Employer Information

Employers with FMLA eligible employees have specific rights and responsibilities under the law. Learn how different types of employers may be covered by the FMLA.

If you are an employer with concerns about false FMLA leave, contact the Wage and Hour Division with any questions about FMLA compliance and seek the advice of your company’s legal and human resources departments.

Labor Unions

A labor union or trade union is an organization of workers which bargains with employers on behalf of its members. The purpose of a labor union is to negotiate labor contracts. Elected leaders of labor unions negotiate specific items of employment including:

  • Pay and benefits
  • Working conditions
  • Complaint procedures
  • Hiring and firing guidelines
  • Help with unfair labor practices

When a union leader negotiates an agreement, it’s binding on the union members and the employer. Sometimes, these agreements affect non-union workers as well. Labor unions can be found in the private sector and at government agencies.  

Private Sector (Non-Government) Employees

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency. It oversees and protects the rights of most private-sector (non-government) employees. The NLRB helps employees determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.

  • You or your co-workers can start, join, or end union representation by filing a petition form. Your petition must show the support of at least 30 percent of your fellow employees.
  • If you have a complaint about a union, contact your nearest NLRB regional office.
  • The NLRB does not handle certain forms of employment discrimination including:
    • Race
    • Sex
    • Workplace safety
    • Entitlement to overtime pay
    • Family and medical leave

Visit the related agencies section of the NLRB website to see which state or federal agency can help with your specific complaint.

Federal and State Government Employees

  • If you’re a federal employee and have a question or complaint about federal unions, contact the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The FLRA an independent federal agency responsible for the labor-management relations program. It establishes policies and resolves disputes for most federal employees and their managers.
  • If your federal agency doesn’t have a union, you and your co-workers can start one. Contact an FLRA regional office and file a petition form (PDF, Download Adobe Reader).
  • If you’re a state or local government employee and have a question about unions, contact the information officer of the NLRB regional office closest to your job. 

Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Misclassification

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces some of the nation’s most comprehensive labor laws. They include:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime
  • Misclassification

Minimum Wage

  • The federal minimum wage is the lowest legal hourly pay for many workers. Tipped employees may have a different wage.
  • The minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for covered nonexempt employees as of July 24, 2009. Learn more about the minimum wage in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Many states and cities also have minimum wage laws. Where federal and state laws have different rates, the higher wage applies. Find your state’s minimum wage laws and its minimum wage for tipped employees.
  • Contact your state labor office with questions about minimum wage.

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