The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be a resource for workers that feel their civil rights have been violated in an employment decision. The EEOC investigates, pursues and works to resolve violations of the laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. Filing a charge with the EEOC can be an intimidating process, but understanding the steps involved can help provide clarity and relieve fears.

Filing a Charge with the EEOC

The EEOC's investigations typically begin with an employee filing a charge of discrimination against their workplace. Employees have a limited amount of time to report instances of discrimination -- 180 to 300 days, depending on the state. States with their own workplace discrimination laws have longer deadlines. Charges can be filed in person at an EEOC office, by telephone at 800-669-4000, or through the mail. The EEOC also provides employees an online tool to assess whether the EEOC will be able to help (see Resources).

EEOC Response

The EEOC will immediately review and assess a charge filed with its office, and within 10 days will provide a notice to the employer. The EEOC process varies somewhat according to the nature of the charges and situation. In some cases, the EEOC will invite the employer and the filer to engage in mediation with the goal of resolving the problem. In others, the EEOC will proceed directly to investigation. Employers have the opportunity to answer charges in writing.

Mediation Option

Most EEOC investigations are either avoided by or result in a mediation process. During this process, a mediator reviews the case and works with the parties to help come to an agreeable solution. Both the employer and the employee must agree to participate in mediation. Mediators are not involved to try to order a resolution in the manner a court decision would. Instead, the mediator seeks a voluntary, mutually acceptable solution to the dispute.

Investigation and Remedies

If mediation does not work or the parties refuse to participate, the case is pursued through regular investigation. Investigators often conduct interviews with other employees and sometimes will visit the workplace where discrimination is alleged to have occurred. Employers that refuse to cooperate with an EEOC investigation can be ordered by the court through a subpoena to provide testimony and documents. Depending on the results of the investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice may file a lawsuit against the employer and pursue damages for violations of the law. Employees also are provided a right to sue, and can seek compensatory and punitive damages in court.