Common Clauses

Filing a Claim with Government Agencies for Unlawful Workplace Behavior

Nov 21, 2023

It’s common for your employment agreement to bar you from taking your company to court, saying anything negative about them, or saying anything about them at all. However, these clauses often come with an exception: you can still file claims with government agencies about unlawful activities. This week, let’s cover what those activities include and what it means to file a claim with the state and federal government.

What constitutes Unlawful Workplace Behavior?

Let’s take a look at typical language you might find in your agreement:

“[This agreement] does not prohibit you from filing a claim with a local, state, or federal administrative body that is authorized to enforce or administer laws”.

In other words, you are free to report violations to any government agency that is responsible for enforcing a law. Federal laws strictly prohibit harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Your employer is also required to follow legal mandates around workplace safety, wages, and maintaining a non-hostile work environment. If you are experiencing any of these negative acts, you have the right to complain to a government agency.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC is an independent federal agency with the mandate to enforce federal laws “that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee”. Their coverage includes employers with at least 15 employees, labor unions, employment agencies, and government agencies. Claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation can be filed online with the EEOC via their guidance portal.

Department of Labor (DOL)

The DOL is part of the executive branch and oversees “the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the US; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” For issues such as unsafe working conditions, you can follow the steps to file a complaint online or via phone through their website.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

The NLRB is an independent federal agency with the mandate to enforce federal laws that “safeguard employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.” They serve to both protect the right to collective bargaining and oversee when unions may not have their members’ best interests at heart. You can access the steps to filing a complaint through their website.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

While traditionally viewed as a consumer-centric agency, the FTC also gets involved on behalf of employees. As we covered in a recent blog post on striking down non-competes, the FTC has been busy the past 2 years in winning multiple cases against companies with unlawful non-competes and drafting legislation to potentially ban them entirely. They’ve noted in their press releases that “if you are aware of an unfair noncompete restriction, you can report it to FTC staff.”

State Government Agencies

While we won’t list all the specific agencies here, each state also has the equivalent of a Department of Labor that is responsible for investigating employer complaints. For example, California’s Labor Enforcement Task Force (LETF) accepts claims online of unpaid wages, retaliation, discrimination, and health/safety issues at work.

While it’s easy to view each government agency as a black hole where paperwork goes and you never hear back, many of the landmark decisions issued from these agencies first began with an individual exercising their right to report unlawful behavior. We’re also seeing unprecedented collaboration between the NLRB, DOL, and EEOC to tackle issues from non-competes to retaliation. One thing to take note as an individual is that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the general public to request (and potentially publicize) records from government agencies. Please keep the possibility of FOIA in mind when you reach out.

For advocacy and beyond,
The Ask Ginkgo Team

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