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Employee Right - Government Agencies

The federal agencies that help victimized employees fight their case against employers:

EEOC- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The agency deals with employee complaints on discrimination. If an applicant or employee has been discriminated against at any stage of employment, he/she has to first file a complaint with the EEOC before contemplating any private legal actions. The complaint can be filed by someone else on behalf of the victimized employee, if he/she wants to protect his/her identity.

Filing a charge

A charge may be filed by mail (certified, return receipt requested) or in person at the nearest EEOC office. The charges should be in writing, signed and sworn to before a person authorized to take an oath. The complaint should provide enough information for the EEOC to determine the nature of the charges.

The complaining applicant or the employee should write his/her name, address, and telephone number, and the name, address, and telephone number of the respondent employer, employment agency, or union that is alleged to have discriminated, and the number of employees (or union members), if known. A short description of the alleged violation (the event that caused the complaining party to believe that his/her rights were violated) and the date(s) of the alleged violation(s).

Time limits for filing a charge

A charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation, in order to protect the charging party's rights. This 180-day filing deadline is extended to 300 days if the charge also is covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. These time limits do not apply to claims under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), because under that Act persons do not have to first file a charge with the EEOC in order to have the right to go to court. However, since many EPA claims also raise Title VII sex discrimination issues, it may be advisable to file charges under both laws within the time limits indicated. To protect legal rights, it is always best to contact the EEOC promptly when discrimination is suspected.

The EEOC notifies the employer within ten days after the complaint is filed. The complaint can only be withdrawn by the employee who has filed the charge. His/her attorney cannot do it without the employee’s signature, and the complaint cannot be withdrawn without the approval of the EEOC.

EEOC Powers

The EEOC has the authority to investigate the employee’s complaint, including inspecting employer records, interviewing other employees, summoning witnesses, requiring the opening of relevant documents, and bringing legal action.

Penalties to be awarded

The "relief" or remedies available for employment discrimination, whether caused by intentional acts or by practices that have a discriminatory effect, may include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, and reasonable accommodation. Remedies also may include payment of attorney's fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.

Compensatory and punitive damages also may be available where intentional discrimination is found. Damages may be available to compensate for actual monetary losses, for future monetary losses, for mental anguish, and inconvenience. Punitive damages also may be available if an employer acted with malice or reckless indifference. The total amount of punitive damages and compensatory damages for future monetary loss and emotional injury for each individual is limited, based upon the size of the employer.

Many states and localities have anti-discrimination laws and agencies responsible for enforcing those laws. The EEOC refers to these agencies as "Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs)." Through the use of "work sharing agreements," the EEOC and the FEPAs avoid duplication of effort while at the same time ensuring that a charging party's rights are protected under both federal and state law.

If a charge is filed with an FEPA and is also covered by federal law, the FEPA "dual files" the charge with the EEOC to protect federal rights. The charge usually will be retained by the FEPA for handling. If a charge is filed with the EEOC and also is covered by state or local law, the EEOC "dual files" the charge with the state or local FEPA, but ordinarily retains the charge for handling.

DOL- Department of labor

The DOL is the agency to approach for wage and hour complaints. If the employee approaches the U.S. Department of labor, they will refer him/her to the state department of labor.

Filing a claim for unpaid (underpaid wages)

The employee can file a “claim for unpaid wages” form with the Department of Labor, if he/she believes that the employer owes him/her wages, for unpaid overtime, or for any other unpaid work performed. Sometimes, it is better to hire a private attorney to pursue a complaint rather than wait for the overworked and understaffed Department of Labor to look into the complaint.

Time Limit for filing

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), there is a two-year statue of limitations on filing a claim for wages. The employee has two years from the time of the complaint he/she knew or should have known of the violation within which to bring the action.

Penalties to be awarded

Back pay - These awards are limited to two years’ worth of unpaid (or underpaid) wages, and three years in case of willful violations.

Damages - Damages can recover an amount equal to the employee’s unpaid or underpaid wages.

Attorney fees and costs - If the employee wins the case, reasonable attorney’s fees and suit costs are recoverable.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Workplace safety standards are overseen by OSHA. The federal OSHA gives employees the right to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Further, the Act gives complainants the right to request that their names not be revealed to their employers. Complaints from employees and their representatives are taken seriously by OSHA.

Filing a complaint

If the employee believes that his/her working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, he/she can file a complaint online. Most online complaints are addressed by OSHA’s phone/fax system, resolved informally over the phone with the employer. OSHA can undertake online submission, if single written complaints are submitted to an OSHA area or state plan office.

Employee complaints from OSHA will be forwarded to the appropriate state plan for responses.

The employee can download the OSHA complaint form or can obtain it from an OSHA office and then fax or mail the completed form to the local OSHA regional office. The employee should include his/her name, address, and telephone number.

The employee can also file a discrimination complaint, if the employer has retaliated for filing a complaint with OSHA or in violation of any rights under the OSHA act, or was fired for refusing to work when faced with imminent danger, death or serious injury. If there is an emergency or the hazard is immediately lifethreatening, the employee should call the local OSHA regional office or 1-800-321-OSHA.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

According to the Immigration Reform Control Act (IRCA), it is illegal to employ illegal immigrants who are ineligible to work in the United States. The IRCA is administered and enforced by the INS.

Filing a complaint

Applicants or employees can file their complaints with the INS, if they are required to supply more and different documents than necessary to verify employment eligibility because of a different accent, look, etc. The individual can also file a complaint, if he/she believes that the employer has hired an illegal alien instead of him/her.

The complaint has to be given in writing; it should mention the date, time, and places; identify the employer; and giving details of unlawful actions.


The INS, acting on a valid complaint, will investigate to determine if there has been any kind of violation of the law. The INS will bring a complaint by issuing a citation or notice of its intention to level a fine. The employer has the right to answer and contest the complaint within 30 days. If the INS shows its unwillingness to proceed on the employee’s complaint, he/she is given 90 days to bring his/her own discrimination lawsuit. He/she might consult an attorney.

The State Workers’ Compensation Commission

Each state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission administers and enforces workers’ compensation laws.

Filing a claim

Employees should give notification about their intention to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Different states have different time limits to notify employers. Generally, it is sufficient to state about the claim in enough detail to give the employer a chance to contest. Written notices should be sent through certified mail, return receipt requested.

The employee should have sustained injury or illness during the course of employment to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The employee can fill out the claim form listing the details of the accident or illness and its relationship to the job.

If the employer does not oppose, the employee will begin receiving benefit checks within a couple of weeks. If the employer decides to contest and when the severity of the injury and the job connection is not so obvious, then it is better to consult an attorney. Employers are required to pay an employee’s medical bills resulting from onthe- job injury or illness.

In certain conditions, the workers’ compensation commission may require the employee to undergo a medical examination by a doctor chosen by the employer or the commission, to authenticate the validity of the complaint.

Informal and Formal Hearing

If the employer contests the claim, both the parties will be given an opportunity to present their case. It may include presenting witnesses, medical documentation, and other evidence at an informal hearing. At the informal hearing there is no need for the presence of an attorney. The employee can present his/her case solo with valid evidence to back it up. If, at the informal hearing, a settlement does not happen, the commission will call a formal hearing. It is advisable to consult an attorney at this time.


Both the parties have the right to pursue an appeal all way through the workers’ compensation commission and into the courts. However, chances of reversal on the decision (as it is based on existing evidence) are very remote.


The employee remains eligible for total benefits, as long as he/she is incapacitated and unable to work. However, he/she has to report periodically to the workers’ compensation commission for continued eligibility of benefits. The employee will receive partial benefits once he/she returns to some kind of work.

The state unemployment compensation commission

This agency administers or enforces the unemployment compensation in the employee’s state.

Filing a claim

If the employee is fired or laid off for any reason other than voluntarily quitting a job or misconduct, he/she is eligible to receive unemployment benefits. The employee should fill out a form at the local employment office, stating the reason behind the job termination.

Predetermination hearing- If the employer contests the claim, the commission will ask both parties to present their case along with evidence at a predetermination hearing. It depends upon the employee whether to have an attorney present or not.

Hearing - If no conclusion has been reached from a predetermination hearing, the commission will hold a formal hearing to resolve the issue. However, the employee may be awarded benefits pending the outcome of the hearing.

Appeal- Both parties have the right to appeal the denial or award of benefits through the unemployment compensation commission and in the court. Most of the time, the appeal turns out to be futile, as the decision is made on the basis of existing records.

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