Alanna Taylor sums up the conundrum perfectly. She worked as a project manager under a U.S. Army contract. When she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit, the Army said she was a contractor and not a federal government worker. On other occasions, though, she was deemed the opposite.
"When it was convenient for them ... then you're a federal employee," she says. "But when they needed to distance themselves from you, then all of a sudden you're a contractor."
The questions that Taylor's case raises - most centrally how to define a person's work status as a contractor or a federal employee - are becoming increasingly important to a government workforce comprised of millions of employees, and in an economy marked by a strong trend toward contract workers based on a desire to reduce certain entitlements and benefits.
Things can get murky, especially when it comes to determining who is liable when an employee has a legal grievance concerning pay, worker's compensation, harassment, retaliation or another work-related matter. A worker designated as a federal government employee generally has far more rights and protections than a contract worker does in such matters, as well as recourse to complaint processes, mediation services and appeals that lack for contractors.
Thus, the definition of a worker as either a contractor or federal employee has important ramifications. Ambiguity can be disconcerting to a worker, and an employer's designation of an employee as a contractor after a dispute arises and during the course of the employee's work in a government job under a government supervisor can seem suspect.
A worker with questions or concerns regarding any federal government employee issue should contact an employment attorney with experience in this area and a proven record of success in protecting workers' rights.
Related Resource: www.washingtonpost.com "Federal contractors travel obscured path in mediation efforts" October 25, 2010