Federal legislation such as the Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and American Disabilities Act provide employees protections against hostile work environments. If you feel that your work environment is hostile you can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC will conduct an investigation and take the appropriate action.

Determine If You're Eligible to File a Complaint

Not all situations in which an employee feels his work environment is hostile are covered by Federal law. The EEOC investigates complaints that meet the following criteria:

The employer must have the minimum number of employees to be subject to anti-discrimination laws. The number varies, depending on the type of employer. For instance, if your employer is a private business, the company must have 15 employees who work at least 20 weeks per year. If your case regards age discrimination, it must have 20 employees.

The complaint must be filed within 180 days of the incident. The filing deadline is extended to 300 days if your state has a law that prohibits the same type of discrimination.

The type of harassment must apply to federal anti-discrimination laws, which cover:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Equal pay
  • Genetic information
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Retaliation
  • Sex
  • Sexual harassment

If you're being harassed at work due to a reason not covered by federal law, check with your state's Labor Commission for state-specific laws that might apply.

The EEOC's online assessment system can help you determine eligibility to file a Charge of Discrimination. However, you cannot file a charge online.

Start the Process with a Phone Call

The only ways in which to file a Charge of Discrimination are in person or via mail. However, you can start the process over the phone. Call 1-800-669-4000 and provide basic information about your case. Your local EEOC office will receive your information and contact you to set up an in-person appointment.

File a Charge of Discrimination in Person

The EEOC has 53 field offices across the country. You can file in person at any location. Many offices assist people on a walk-in basis; others require an appointment in advance. Check to determine the proper protocol before you go in.

Bring helpful documents with you to your meeting. These might include statements from co-workers or performance reviews. The EEOC officer will take your statement and ask you questions regarding the incident(s). Before you leave, you'll receive a copy of your Charge of Discrimination, and a charge number.

File a Charge of Discrimination by Mail

You may file your charge by mail, if you prefer. Write a letter to the EEOC that includes:

  • Your name and contact information
  • The name of your employer and the company's contact information
  • The number of employees at the company
  • A statement with details of the incident and when it took place
  • Why you believe federal anti-discrimination laws apply to your situation
  • Your signature 

An EEOC officer will review your letter and contact you with any questions.

After You File

After you file a Charge of Discrimination, the EEOC determines if it has jurisdiction over the matter and if the charge meets other criteria. The agency sends a copy of the charges to your employer within 10 days and assigns an investigator to the case. After that, the charge handling process commences.