Employees Have Rights When Facing Disciplinary Actions

Federal employees have rights when they receive a notice of proposed removal, proposed demotion, or proposed suspension of more than 14 days.

Except in certain circumstances, most federal employees are entitled to certain protections before they can be removed, demoted, or suspended for more than 14 days. Most federal workers have the following rights when they are facing one of these disciplinary actions:  (1) the right to written notice; (2) the right to review the evidence; (3) the right to representation; and (4) the right to respond.  5 U.S.C. § 7513; 5 C.F.R. § 752.404.

The right to written notice

Before removing, demoting, or suspending an employee for more than 14 days, the agency must give the employee a written notice of the proposed discipline.  The notice of proposed discipline must describe the allegations against the employee (i.e., what type of misconduct or performance issue the employee is accused of) and what penalty the agency proposes to impose.

The right to review the evidence

The employee has the right to review any documents, materials, policies, and any other evidence the agency relied upon in proposing the disciplinary action.  This evidence is frequently called “the documents relied upon” or “the record.”  Sometimes the proposing official or HR will automatically give the employee the documents relied upon.  However, the employee should ask for the documents and ask the agency to confirm that he/she received all of the documents relied upon.

The right to representation

The notice of proposed discipline should also state that the employee has the right to representation.  This means that the employee may enlist or retain a representative to aid him/her in responding to the notice of proposed discipline.  The representative may be a union representative, a private attorney, or any other person.  The employee should notify the agency that he/she has a representative connected to the proposed discipline.

The right to respond

employee discipline

An employee has the right to respond in writing and orally to a notice of proposed removal, demotion, or suspension for more than 14 days.  The agency must give the employee a “reasonable” amount of time (i.e., not less than 7 days) to respond.  The notice of proposed discipline should state when the employee’s response is due.  An employee may ask the deciding official for an extension of time to submit his/her response.  The employee may submit his/her own evidence, including but not limited to statements or declarations from witnesses, with the written or oral response.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., today if you are a federal employee who received a notice of proposed removal, proposed demotion, or proposed suspension for more than 14 days.  We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.

A Brief Guide to Age Discrimination

age discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, commonly referred to as the ADEA, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are 40 years of age or older. Complaints of age discrimination are extremely prevalent in the federal government. One third of federal sector complaints of discrimination raise age-based allegations, making age discrimination the second most alleged basis in formal EEO complaints.

Age discrimination can take many forms, including the following:

  • Marine V., et al. v. Social Security Administration: The EEOC found that the agency’s use of a pre-employment written examination as a way to screen out internal candidates and recruit external hires was pretext for age discrimination. The EEOC ordered the agency to retroactively place the aggrieved employees in the positions for which they had applied but were not hired.
  • Cook v. Department of Labor: A 59-year-old human resources employee was subjected to age discrimination when her supervisor asked about her retirement plan, removed her supervisory duties, and made age-based comments. The supervisor’s age-based comments, including his statement that “younger people are coming in and out and they are better with computers,” created an inference of discrimination. The EEOC awarded the complainant compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
  • Kruecke v. Department of Veterans Affairs: An Administrative Judge found that the agency’s discharge of a 67 year-old nurse for alleged deficient performance was pretext for age discrimination because the agency was willing to tolerate substandard performance from a younger nurse. The EEOC affirmed the AJ’s findings and ordered the agency to pay back pay and train its responsible officials.

Though victims of age discrimination may elect to pursue their complaints through the administrative process (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other state and local human rights offices), this is not necessary. Employees who feel they have been a target of age discrimination may file a complaint directly in federal District Court.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you feel that your employer made employment decisions based on your age. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world. Call 202-463-6036 to schedule a consultation.

Follow the Rules Act

On June 14, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Follow the Rules Act, an important extension of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

Background

The WPA is a law that protects federal government employees from retaliatory action for disclosing information about dishonest or illegal activities occurring within the federal government. A 2016 Federal Circuit decision interpreting the WPA, Rainey v. Merit Systems Protection Board, held that an employee who refuses to obey an order that would require him to violate a statute is protected from adverse action, but an employee who refuses to obey an order requiring him to violate a rule or regulation is not protected under the WPA.

What protections does the Follow the Rules Act add?

The Follow the Rules Act overturns the Rainey decision, and prohibits agencies from taking personnel actions against employees who refuse orders that would require the employee to violate a law, rule, or regulation.

In introducing the bill last year, Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) gave the following example:

Congress directed the President to promulgate rules and regulations regarding sanctions against North Korea. Without the additional protections of the Follow the Rules Act, federal employees who were directed to violate North Korea sanctions would have no whistleblower protections under the WPA.

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said of the bill, “we need to do all we can to ensure that federal employees are allowed to perform their jobs free from political pressure to violate laws, rules, and regulations.”

If you have been subjected to an adverse personnel action following a protected disclosure regarding illegal or improper activity, contact us today. We offer results-driven legal services to federal employees around the world.

The New VA Reform Bill (S. 1094): What Changes Are Coming?

On June 13, 2017, the House joined the Senate in approving a VA reform bill aimed at making it easier to discipline employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  As President Trump has already stated he will sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk, it appears certain that substantial changes are going to be made to the VA disciplinary process.

First, the S. 1094 will create a new framework for the discipline of VA employees, speeding up the process significantly.  It will require the VA to give notice of proposed discipline, accept a response, and make a decision on the proposal within 15 days.  Non SES-employees will still have a right to appeal to the Merit System Protection Board, but must file the appeal within 10 days of the adverse action, as opposed to the current 30 day deadline.  Furthermore, the Board will be required to issue a decision on the case within 180 days.

While non-SES employees would still have the right to appeal to the Board, S. 1094 strips away  SES-employees right to appeal to the Board.  SES employees will need to appeal their discipline through an internal appeals process that will take no more than 21 days.  However, should the internal appeals decision still be adverse, the SES-employee may appeal the Agency’s decision to a U.S. District Court.

Second, and perhaps most controversially, S.1094 establishes a new evidentiary standard used by the Board in reviewing issues of discipline.  The Board currently reviews removals and other appealable adverse actions on a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which means that the Agency must prove that the charges for which a VA employee was disciplined more likely than not occurred.  This bill would move the Board to a substantial evidence standard, which would only require that the VA show that there is relevant evidence that would lead a reasonable person to support the discipline.  The substantial evidence standard is the lesser of the two standards, and will make it easier for the VA to not only remove employees, but to have that decision upheld by the Board.

If you are a VA employee, and facing disciplinary action, it is imperative that you do not wait to seek legal advice.  Our attorneys are well versed in the procedural requirements and disciplinary process, and can assist you in protecting your livelihood.  Call (202) 462-6036 or email us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced federal employment attorney.

Alexandria employee sues city for violating FMLA

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reinstated an employee’s case against the City of Alexandria for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Quintana v. City of Alexandria, No. 16-1630 (4th Cir. filed June 6, 2017).

Monica Quintana was hired by the City of Alexandria in 2011. After one year, the City outsourced its payroll and other administrative functions to Randstad USA, a staffing agency. However, Quintana’s job functions remained the same, and she continued to report to a supervisor who was a City employee.

On or about January 9, 2014, the City granted Quintana’s request for FMLA leave to care for her comatose husband. Quintana told Randstad that she was approved to take three months of FMLA leave. However, on January 17, 2014, the City terminated Quintana’s employment for failing to report to work without notice.

Quintana filed a lawsuit against both Randstad and the City of Alexandria in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The City argued that it was not Quintana’s primary employer, and thus, was not liable for denying Quintana FMLA leave or for retaliating against her for requesting leave. The court accepted this argument and dismissed Quintana’s claims against the City.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and allowed Quintana to continue her lawsuit against the City of Alexandria. The Fourth Circuit ruled that Quintana alleged enough facts to show that the City of Alexandria, along with Randstad, was her employer.

If you believe your employer interfered with your rights to take FMLA leave or retaliated against you for requesting FMLA leave, contact us today. Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., offers strategic and results-driven legal services to clients in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia, and to federal employees throughout the United States.