New law affords greater whistleblower protections to federal employees

Recently, a new law went into effect that better protects federal whistleblowers from retaliation by their supervisors. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, unanimously passed by both chambers of Congress, aims to deter supervisors from punishing federal employees for exposing agency mismanagement. It also includes some agency-specific requirements to better protect Veterans Affairs employees’ privacy interests.

How will the law protect federal whistleblowers?

Many federal employees who disclose wrongdoing suffer the indignity of being targeted by their managers after speaking out about governmental waste, fraud, and abuse. Such was the case of Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist who sadly committed suicide the same day he was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing. Dr. Kirkpatrick raised concerns about the over-prescription of opioids to veterans at a VA facility that was known to patients as “Candy Land.” Until last week, there was a lack of consequences for individuals engaging in such retaliation, and managers were even rewarded with bonuses and raises for harassing whistleblowers.

The new law, named after Mr. Kirkpatrick, requires that agencies train managers how to handle whistleblower complaints and provide a disciplinary process for retaliating managers.

The law also requires that the VA develop a plan to prevent unauthorized access to employees’ medical records, and it must reach out to employees to make them more aware of available mental health services.

Are you a federal whistleblower?

If you have questions about federal whistleblower protections or retaliation, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today.  Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.

Veterans’ preference can help you get a federal job

Armed Forces veterans receive preference in the hiring process for certain Federal jobs. Veterans’ preference acknowledges the nation’s obligation to disabled veterans. It recognizes the economic loss suffered by those who have served our country and restores veterans to a favorable competitive position for Federal employment. However, there are some limitations on when veterans’ preference applies and who qualifies for it.

When does preference apply?

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Vet Guide says veterans’ preference applies to permanent and temporary positions in the competitive and excepted services of the executive branch. Preference also applies in hiring from civil service examinations conducted by OPM and agencies under delegated examining authority, for most excepted service jobs. These jobs include Veterans Recruitment Appointments and temporary, term, and overseas limited appointments.

In addition to receiving preference in competitive appointments, veterans may apply for special noncompetitive appointments only available to veterans.

When doesn’t preference apply?

Veterans’ preference does not apply to Senior Executive Service positions or to executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation. Positions in the legislative and judicial branches are also exempt unless the positions are in the competitive service (for example, in the Government Printing Office) or have been otherwise designated.

Preference does not apply to promotion, reassignment, change to lower grade, transfer, or reinstatement. For selections under the merit promotion process, the preference-eligible receives only a right to apply and an opportunity to compete for the position. Additionally, preference does not apply to Veterans Health Administration appointments of physicians, dentists, and other positions made under 38 USC § 7401. Nor does it apply to defense intelligence positions in the Department of Defense filled pursuant to 10 USC § 1601.

Do I qualify for veterans’ preference?

To qualify for veterans’ preference, you must have served in the United States Armed Forces. The Armed Forces include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. To be eligible, you must have been released from active duty with an honorable or general discharge. Also, you must fall under one of the preference categories on Standard Form 50, Notification of Personnel Action.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you have questions about veterans’ preference.  Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.

Navigating the EEO process for congressional employees

The Capitol

Federal government employees have to follow a specific procedure to file an EEO complaint of discrimination or retaliation.  The EEO process for employees within the legislative branch of government is unique from the process for other government employees.

Where do I file my EEO complaint?   

The Office of Compliance (OOC) is charged with processing EEO complaints for most legislative employees, including those employed by:

  • S. House of Representatives
  • S. Senate
  • S. Capitol Police
  • Congressional Budget Office
  • Office of the Architect of the Capitol
  • Office of the Attending Physician
  • Office of Compliance and
  • Office of Congressional Accessibility Services.[1]

What do I do first?

You must file a request for counseling with OOC within 180 days of the act of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.  Identifying your claims is critical because only claims specifically listed in the request for counseling may proceed through the EEO process.

The counseling period lasts for 30 days.

What happens after counseling?

After the counseling period, you have 15 days to file a request for mediation with the OOC.   Mediation is a mandatory settlement conference between you and your employer.  During mediation, a mediator will attempt to resolve the complaint.

What do I do if my case doesn’t settle at mediation?  

If you do not reach a settlement at mediation, you may file a lawsuit in federal district court.  You must file a lawsuit no earlier than 30-days after the end of mediation, but no later than 90-days after mediation concludes.  Alternatively, you may file a request for a hearing before a hearing officer at the OOC.

Should I request a hearing or file a lawsuit?

This is an important decision that depends on a variety of factors including the facts of your case, the defense arguments raised at mediation, and general case strategy.  Making this decision requires the expertise of a lawyer who has argued before both hearing officers at the OOC and federal district court judges.

The legislative branch process is very technical and separate from how EEO complaints are processed in the executive branch.  Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you are a legislative employee who has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

 

[1] Library of Congress (LOC) employees follow a different process.