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Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation

Federal and state laws protect you from unfair and unwelcome treatment at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and states enforce discrimination and harassment laws.

EEOC laws don’t cover all employers. Coverage is often based on the number of employees. Verify if your employer is required to follow the EEOC's rules.

Discrimination at work

Discrimination is when an employer treats an employee or job applicant unfairly because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

Report workplace discrimination

Report discrimination to the EEOC. Use the EEOC's public portal to follow the complaint process.

  1. Submit an online inquiry.

  2. Schedule an interview with someone from the EEOC.

  3. Submit a charge of discrimination.

Ensure that you meet the time limits for reporting discrimination. In most cases, you must file a charge within 180 calendar days.

Learn more about what to expect when you report discrimination. 

Report discrimination to local government

States and local governments also have anti-discrimination laws. Report discrimination to a local Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). If the discrimination breaks both a state and federal law, the FEPA will also send your complaint to the EEOC.

Use the EEOC's directory of field offices to find the FEPA near you.

Report discrimination in federal employment

Federal employees and job applicants report discrimination to the equal employment office (EEO) at the agency where it happened. Follow the EEO’s complaint process within 45 calendar days.

File a discrimination lawsuit

You can sue an employer for discrimination. If the lawsuit is based on a federal law, you must file a complaint with the EEOC first.

Harassment at work

Workplace harassment is unwelcome conduct based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information.

Harassment includes:

  • Offensive jokes, objects, or pictures
  • Name calling
  • Physical assaults and threats
  • Intimidation

Harassment is unlawful when:

  • Enduring the conduct is required to continue employment.
  • It creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. It can also include offensive comments about someone’s sex.

Sexual harassment is unlawful when:

  • It is so frequent and severe that it creates a hostile or intimidating work environment.
  • It results in an adverse employment decision (ex: the person is demoted, denied promotion, suspended, or fired).

Report harassment

Follow these steps if you experienced harassment at work.


Retaliation happens when an employer treats someone poorly because they engaged in a protected activity. Protected activities include:

  • Filing or being a witness in an EEOC 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

Common retaliation methods include:

  • Firing
  • Demotion
  • Denying benefits
  • Denying promotions
  • Intimidation or threats

Report retaliation

Use the EEOC's public portal to report retaliation related to discrimination or harassment.

LAST UPDATED: December 6, 2023


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