Navigating Harassment, Bullying, and Discrimination: Resources for Federal Employees

Federal employees should know about their available resources to address workplace bullying and harassment.

In an ideal workplace, federal employees should feel safe, respected, and valued. However, instances of harassment, bullying, and discrimination can occur, creating an uncomfortable and hostile work environment.

Federal employees who face such challenges should know about the resources available to them to address these issues effectively.

In this article, we will explore the required actions and available resources that federal employees can utilize when confronted with harassment, bullying, or discrimination in their federal workplace.

I know that in my own experience unacceptable behaviors happen and again, based on my own experience, federal organizations are not always set up, motivated, or even interested in taking on these complicated issues, seemingly fearful of outward appearances but apparently unconcerned with the potential mistreatment of a staff member or staff members.

I know that in my organization, where I worked for 11 years, the Director of one of the three workstreams, a GS-15, was a notorious bully who was called “Barracuda” by her staff members. She was repeatedly investigated, had actual findings against her, and was able to practice her own brand of bullying and harassment throughout my entire tenure and to the best of my knowledge is continuing to spread her misery today.

In one year, I was included and questioned as a witness in three separate investigations. Nobody was willing to take her on, nobody was willing to challenge her, and nobody seemed to care that she was bullying and harassing staff.

As difficult as it might be having to live with these types of misbehaviors, reporting them and trying to do something about them can be an even greater challenge but one that federal staff needs to be willing to take on if things are ever to change. My very strong advice is if you experience harassment, bullying, or discrimination, either say something and do something to prevent it or leave. The one thing you can’t do is let it go unchecked and negatively impact you and your well-being.

Leaving and making sure the leadership knows why you are leaving is another option. If enough folks leave, leadership might be forced to find the courage to act. I know it might seem unlikely, but stranger things have happened. When the word gets out about how bad an office or agency is to work, somebody in power might just find a way to do what is right.

Reporting the Incident


When faced with harassment, bullying, or discrimination, it is crucial for federal employees to promptly report the incident through the appropriate channels. This often involves notifying the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office or the agency’s designated office responsible for handling such complaints. Reporting the incident is essential to initiating an investigation and resolving the matter. It is important to document the incident and provide as much detail as possible to aid the investigation process.

Federal agencies are mandated to have an EEO process in place to address workplace concerns related to harassment, bullying, and discrimination. The EEO process typically involves filing a formal complaint with the agency’s EEO office. This initiates an investigation into the allegations, during which evidence is gathered, witnesses are interviewed, and appropriate actions are determined. Federal employees should familiarize themselves with their agency’s specific EEO process and follow the necessary steps to ensure their complaints are appropriately addressed.

Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

In some cases, federal employees may opt for mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods to address their concerns. These approaches aim to facilitate open communication and find mutually agreeable solutions without resorting to lengthy investigations or legal proceedings.

Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate discussions and negotiations between the parties involved. Alternative dispute resolution methods can offer a less formal and more collaborative approach to resolving workplace conflicts.

Office of Special Counsel (OSC)

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent agency responsible for investigating and addressing prohibited personnel practices, including retaliation against employees who report harassment, bullying, or discrimination. Federal employees who believe they are facing retaliation for reporting workplace concerns can contact the OSC for assistance. The OSC investigates allegations of retaliation and takes appropriate actions to protect the rights of federal employees.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are available to provide support and guidance to federal employees facing workplace challenges. EAPs offer confidential counseling services, resources, and referrals to help employees navigate through difficult situations. EAPs can assist employees in managing stress, coping with the emotional impact of harassment or discrimination, and exploring available options for resolution.

Legal Remedies

In cases where internal avenues fail to address the issue satisfactorily, federal employees may consider seeking legal remedies. They can consult an attorney who specializes in employment law or contact relevant federal agencies, such as the Office of Special Counsel or the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to explore further legal options.


Harassment, bullying, and discrimination have no place in the federal workplace, and employees should not hesitate to act when faced with such challenges. Federal employees must be aware of the available resources and take the necessary steps to address these issues effectively.

By promptly reporting incidents, utilizing the EEO process, considering mediation or alternative dispute resolution, contacting the Office of Special Counsel, engaging Employee Assistance Programs, and exploring legal remedies, when necessary, federal employees can seek resolution, protect their rights, and contribute to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment for all.

If all else has failed, I would strongly recommend contacting your Members of Congress. I would always want to give the process a reasonable chance to work but when all else has failed your elected officials are there to help you and to give voice to your concerns.

My experience was bad and something that nobody should have to suffer in a work environment but apparently nothing particularly extraordinary in the broad federal sector. As bad as it was, since I started writing these articles, I have heard from a great many folks who suffered harassment, bullying, and discrimination way beyond anything I experienced.

Whether it is a lack of moral courage, ego, an effort to maintain the status quo, or just incompetence, allowing behaviors such as harassment, bullying, and discrimination to flourish is wrong. Among other things, all leaders are tasked with looking out for the welfare of their staff.

Harassment, bullying, and discrimination are not acceptable in any circumstance and if our leaders are not capable or lack the courage to do something about it, we need to step outside our organizations and make something happen. We need to decide that enough is enough.

You work hard. Harassment, bullying, and discrimination are not acceptable. Leaders need to lead!

About the Author

Brian Canning recently retired from the National Institutes of Health (DHHS) as a Change Management Specialist in addition to 30 years in the automotive repair industry with many senior leadership positions. He has been a business consultant and leadership coach and has over 70 articles published, mostly on leadership and business process.