A government employee’s options depend on the agency, department, or government body that the person works for. There are few generalities that can be listed because people who work for the government—especially for the federal government—are typically governed by the rules and regulations set out for that specific agency or department. The policies and procedures set forth by the specific departments are usually the ones that have to be followed.
Before a government employee decides to file a complaint against an employer or go to court, he or she must do the research to see if there are steps required to initiate an internal grievance. If you are a government employee, do not expect the courts or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to know what the specific internal procedures you need to follow are before you are allowed to file a discrimination complaint. Government offices typically have poor, if any, communication with each other.
A common example is that many government agencies and state offices require that an employee file a formal discrimination complaint, following specific procedures, with that agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer, before going outside of the office. The EEO officer’s job is to attempt to resolve the discrimination issue before the complaint is escalated outside of the office and litigation becomes a possibility. Some of the mandatory deadlines for filing internal grievances or complaints can be very short, so it is very important for government employees to learn the specific policies and regulations of their agency.
It is unfortunate when a government employee does not do his or her homework and starts filing a complaint outside of his or her department or hires a private attorney only to discover that he or she neglected to follow the correct procedures and exercise all of his or her options for the case. By exercising all the employee’s options and following time requirements, government employees lay a stronger foundation for litigation and winning their case if they end up in court.
I have heard many government employees complain that these regulations are a burden and another challenge for the employee who has already suffered from discrimination. It may be true that in some agencies the regulations can be another hassle for an employee who is having problems at work and that some managers might take advantage of the regulations to make the employee jump through hoops as further punishment. However, this is certainly not the purpose of regulations and procedures. The legitimate purpose is to resolve the employee’s problem fairly, quickly, and without external interference. The vast majority of cases are successfully handled in this manner.