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If you have learned that you are the target of an investigation in the federal workplace, you are probably worried about what might happen.

Unfortunately, the possible outcomes are grim: You may be facing disciplinary action. You may be placed on a performance plan. Or you may even lose your job.

The reality is, you may not have even done anything wrong. Your employer has decided to launch an investigation against you without justification.

It is not uncommon for federal employers to target certain groups of employees, or employees they don't like.

If it seems unfair, it is.

The unintended consequences of an unfair employee investigation

Being the target of an investigation is never a positive experience for an employee.

Even if job loss doesn't occur, the investigation is an embarrassing and stressful thing to go through. Often, employees decide to leave the organization and look for other work.

What should employees do?

If you find yourself the target of an internal investigation at your workplace, do not wait to get legal help.

The stakes are extremely high. You may be at risk for losing your job.

If you are being investigated, if you have been placed on a performance plan or if disciplinary action has been proposed, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.

Remember: Employee investigations are never neutral. Don't leave your future to chance.

Talk to a federal employment law attorney today. Going to HR or EEO may harm your case. Call us at 888-351-0424.

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Reporters throughout the country recently spotlighted the Hatch Act. The law drew the media’s attention when the Office of Special Counsel accused Kellyanne Conway of a violation. The media’s attention to the matter was well deserved. In certain situations, federal employers can fire those who violate this law.

The story led to many questions. This piece will provide some basic information.

What is the Hatch Act?

Lawmakers passed this law in 1939 to curb the political activities of federal workers. Essentially, this law states federal employees cannot use the power that comes with their position to influence a political election.

Some federal employees have greater restrictions then others. The law basically bars these employees from any political activity intended to aid in the success or failure of a candidate.

How common are violations?

Not uncommon. In 2016, the government found the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in violation of the law when he mixed his professional duties with personal political beliefs during an interview.

In this most recent case, Ms. Conway was found in violation by sharing her personal political thoughts about democratic candidates repeatedly during interviews and through her use of social media platforms in an official capacity.

Is everyone subject to these restrictions?

No. Most notably, the President and Vice President are generally exempt.

What if I am accused of a Hatch Act violation?

Most federal employees will likely face serious consequences if accused of violating the Hatch Act. Those who are accused by their employer have options. Contact an attorney to discuss the best legal strategy for your situation.

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A local government agency recently fired a 911 dispatcher for comments she made on social media. The federal employee made a comment on Facebook in response to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. She states that due to this comment, her employer terminated her position as a dispatcher.

The dispatcher also states the employer has censored her political speech in the past, making her remove a Trump 2016 sweatshirt or else face repercussions for insubordination.

Dispatcher builds a case against her employer, and wins

In addition to the allegations noted above, the dispatcher also states the agency did not enforce its social media policy fairly. To this argument, she provided evidence of other employees using similar language online without repercussions. The dispatcher used this evidence to support the argument that the agency did not equally enforce a well-defined policy.

In response to these actions, the federal employee filed suit against the agency responsible for her employment, stating she was the victim of wrongful termination as the termination was a violation of her freedom of speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment.

A jury hears the case

The case was heard before a jury, who returned a verdict in favor of the dispatcher. The jury chose to award the federal employee compensation to cover missed pay as well as an award for emotional injury.

Those who believe they are the victims of wrongful termination in a similar scenario can hold their employer accountable. Contact an attorney to discuss your options.

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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is responsible for managing the retirement applications for federal employees. The agency receives an average of 100,000 applications annually. Although managing these requests is a major undertaking, the agency has failed to meet even its own goals.

What were the OPM’s goals?

The OPM had stated it would process retirement applications within 60 days of receipt. Unfortunately, the agency failed to meet this goal and had been accumulating a mounting backlog. The most recent count shows the agency is behind by 17,228 applications.

Why the backlog?

The agency states the issue is the result of reliance on manual processing instead of using software and other technological advances. The OPM also points to a lack of adequate staffing and problems with the applications to further explain the backlog.

What can the OPM do to address this problem?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reviewed the OPM’s approach to retirement application management and provided some suggestions. These suggestions include:

  • Modernization plan. The GAO calls on the Associate Director of OPM’s Retirement Services to put together a modernization plan.  
  • Enhanced management practices. The agency also calls on the OPM to revamp its management practices to better address processing timelines and allocate resources to help address any deficiencies.
  • Increased collaboration. The GAO also pushed the OPM to work with other agencies to discuss cost-effective ways to address problems with applications.

The OPM partially agreed with the GAO’s recommendations. As a result, it will likely attempt to implement the majority of these suggestions.

However, the agency does not have a good track record. As noted above, it failed to meet its goals in the past. Federal employees that are fighting for their retirement benefits have options. An attorney experienced in dealing with the OPM can help.

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Annual reviews are commonplace in any job, but those who work in the federal sector should note that even if the review does not directly impact their pay it will have an impact on their position. A recent piece in the Federal Times notes the review could still effect consideration for promotions or other positions outside your current agency.

As a result, it is wise to set yourself up for a positive review. Three steps that can help include:

  • Listen. This is an opportunity to hear directly from your employer. Take this opportunity to listen to how your superior perceives your contribution to the team.
  • Speak up. Employers often use subjective standards. These standards can be difficult to quantify. Do not be afraid to let your employer more about your performance. Explain how you have added value to the job. Provide specific examples to help influence the direction of the review.
  • Bring evidence. It can help to take a proactive approach and save emails and other pieces of evidence to support the positive influence you have in your position. Take some time in the days before the meeting to organize positive emails or notes of thanks from coworkers as well as a list of projects you have taken on that have had positive outcomes to bring into and discuss during the review. Even a project that did not go as planned can be an opportunity to show your employer your strengths. Be prepared to share with an employer an explanation of lessons learned.

Some employers will measure their employees with objective measures. If this is the case, try to set up a meeting at the half way point of the year to see if you are on track. This will give you sufficient time to make changes if needed to better ensure you meet the employer’s expectations.

Those who have negative review and find themselves the subject of disciplinary action have options to defend their position. You can have your situation reviewed by an attorney experienced in federal labor laws to help better ensure your interests are protected.

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Losing a job is a terrible thing to go through. The initial shock, followed by uncertainty make this a very stressful situation.

There are many legitimate reasons why an employer may fire an employee.

But when someone loses their job for illegal reasons, it is critical for the employee to be aware of his or her legal rights.

Examples of wrongful termination

  • Termination based on discrimination: Firing an employee because of his or her age, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, nation origin, religion, disability, pregnancy or inclusion in another protected class
  • Termination based on retaliation: Firing an employee because he or she reported wrongdoing within the workplace/governmental agency

At what point should an employee contact an attorney? As soon as possible – even before the termination occurs, especially if the employee is subject to an internal investigation.

These cases can be extremely complex. A wrongful termination claim involving a federal employee may involve The Merit Systems Protection Board or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

It is critical to work with a federal employment law attorney who understands how these agencies operate, and how to protect the rights of an employee.

You don’t have to face this alone

Do you suspect you were fired for a discriminatory reason? Did your employer fire you after you reported suspicious or illegal activity within your organization?

Talk to a federal employment law attorney today. Call 888-351-0424 for representation anywhere in the U.S.

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Government officials recently proposed merging the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with the General Services Administration (GSA). Since the proposal, lawmakers have been on leave for the Memorial Day Break. The Congressional calendar slates lawmakers to return to work today. It is likely the lawmakers will renew discussions of the OPM/GSA proposal's fate.

Where does the proposal stand? At this time, no member of Congress has stepped forward to sponsor President Donald Trump's administration's proposal to merge these offices. Due to the lack of support from either side of the aisle, critics state it is unlikely the merger will occur in the near future.

However, President Trump’s administration notes the OPM does not have the funds to continue operations. As a result, Congressional leaders may have no choice but to move forward with the merger.

Other logistical realities further encourage passage of the merger. For example, current plans already result in two of the OPM’s key business operations, the National Background Investigations Bureau and security clearance business, completing transfer to the GSA on October 1, 2019.

Are there other choices? OPM’s acting director, Margaret Weichert, has stated the agency may consider another option: outsourcing to the GSA until finalizing a permanent solution.

How does this impact federal employees? Federal employees that find themselves facing an employment law issue are wise to keep this ongoing evolution in mind. Federal employees can seek legal counsel to help better ensure their legal rights are protected while these agencies work to determine their future.

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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has a good reputation for managing retirement programs and insurance for federal employees. However, it is not known for its efficiency.

Departments have attempted to start their own personnel units to move away from the OPM. This was the first sign of struggle for the OPM, highlighted when both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense received approval to begin their own systems, in 2002 and 2004 respectively.

Additional signs of the demise of the OPM are present today. These signs include:

  • Loss of security clearance function. As noted in a recent piece in The Hill, the security clearance function of the OPM was recently transferred to the Department of Defense.
  • Human resource administrative functions. The same publication also notes sources claim the OPM’s human resources administrative functions will transition to the General Services administration.
  • Policy making function. This function, too, may leave. It may shift to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Congress created both the OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) with the Civil Service Reform Act. As noted in previous posts, the MSPB has struggled in recent years. The move of the OPM could be a sign of change to the MSPB as well.

These signs are a reminder of the complexity that comes with navigating an OPM or MSPB claim. The agencies are constantly evolving and the rules that apply for navigating these claims can change. Federal employees can take steps to better ensure their rights are protected as they navigate through this system. An attorney experienced with this niche area of the law can help.

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Whistleblowers play an important role in the federal government. The tips given by these workers help hold those in power accountable. These workers can catch an abuse of the system, ideally while there is still time to rectify the problem. In exchange, the government and legal system is supposed to protect the worker from retaliation.

Does the system always work? Unfortunately, not. There are legal remedies for federal workers who hold their employers accountable and suffer retaliation, but lawmakers are reviewing the system and considering new measures.

What new measures? The Federal Times reports the Senate Intelligence Committee is attempting to make it easier for those who work within the intelligence community to report illegal behavior. Such reports are difficult, as a failure to follow proper protocol can result in a breach in security.

Due to the secretive nature of the information, even workers with validated reports of ethical violations or violations of the law would often find themselves demoted or ostracized in retaliation for coming forward. Workers were unlikely to go public as doing so could jeopardize the lives of their colleagues serving the country in the secret service and other intelligence agencies.

How do we solve this problem? According to a national security analyst for the Government Accountability Project, lawmakers should provide a measure that will result in internal channels to help better “ensure whistleblowers are safe from reprisal.” The new proposal may help to provide this channel. The new measure would provide those who feel they are the subject of retaliation with a list of approved methods to move forward with additional appeals.

The bill is currently up for vote in the Senate. If the Senate approves the proposal, it will move on to the House for further review.

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The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently called out the Veterans Affairs (VA) office for its failure to properly address sexual harassment within the agency. The public scolding was part of a letter published online on The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman’s website.  

Why did lawmakers feel the need to publish the letter? The letter comes after a report last year that 26% of women and 14% of men reported instances of sexual harassment. The report concludes that the VA has the highest rate of sexual harassment of employees compared to any other federal agency.  

The published letter was likely an attempt to call attention to the VA’s failings and provide incentive for the agency to address the problem and implement changes.

How can the VA address this problem? The group provides some advice. Examples include:

  • Train. The group is pushing the agency to provide better training on sexual harassment with employees and contractors. The group notes the agency has done a better job offering training, but that the training is not currently mandatory.
  • Monitor. Lawmakers have also encouraged the VA to do a better job monitoring and addressing complaints of sexual harassment. Currently, reporting is done at a local level. This makes it difficult to hold facilities that fail to provide a safe working environment accountable for instances of sexual harassment.

What about victims of sexual harassment? Federal employees that are victims of sexual harassment have options. These employees can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to hold their abuser accountable for their wrongdoing.

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