You’ve been passed over for a promotion again. Or, perhaps the new sales associate was given that plum territory that you, because of your seniority, thought you’d be assigned to. You grumble about how your boss hates you to a friend who says, “Hey, you might be a victim of unfair treatment, but you can do something about it.” U.S. employees have legal rights to fair treatment in the workplace, overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you think that your unfair treatment may be crossing into discrimination due to a certain characteristic you have, you could have legal grounds to pursue a complaint.

What is Unfair Treatment in the Workplace?

Every employee deserves to be evaluated on their accomplishments and abilities. Suppose you note that you’re being denied opportunities that someone else with your qualifications or seniority may be granted. In that case, you can take a few steps to address the situation.

The EEOC protects workers from discrimination and notes several “protected classes” of workers. It’s illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, or career opportunities based on someone’s:

  • Race or color
  • Ethnicity or national origin
  • Gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

Our friends at Cohen & Cohen offer some tips for handling unfair treatment at work:

Step One: Document EVERYTHING

Jot down each instance of unfair treatment or discrimination in your workplace, including the dates, times, and locations. Try to write down as much of the conversations verbatim as possible. Save copies of any emails or text exchanges related to the discrimination. Don’t forget to note the names of anyone nearby when the mistreatment happened, as they may be valuable witnesses in your case.

Step Two: File a Complaint with Your Company’s HR Department  

Your Human Resources manager may not be aware of preferential or unfair treatment, so the first step in addressing being unfairly treated or discriminated against is to tell someone who can do something to stop it.

An HR manager can investigate your complaint and talk to witnesses who may have noticed you were unfairly treated. They can also discipline any offenders or take other action.

Step Three: Call an Employment Lawyer

Before escalating your unfair treatment claim to the EEOC, it’s usually best to talk to an employment lawyer. They can evaluate your case and help you through the next steps, like filing a complaint. An attorney can also draft the complaint and ensure you have sufficient documentation and evidence to back it up.

Step Four: Contact Your State’s Employment Commission

If you don’t get a resolution at the company level and the unfair treatment persists, then you can contact your state’s Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). This is the state equivalent of the federal EEOC, and it has vast resources to investigate workplace discrimination complaints.

Step Five: Contact the EEOC

You can usually file your complaint with the state agency at the same time you file a complaint with the EEOC. Your attorney can help you fill out the complaint, file it, and argue your case before the Commission. If your claim is denied, you have an option to appeal, which a lawyer may also handle for you.