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MSBP board members role eliminated in new VA law

Legal actions often proceed slowly. This is generally not due to judges having a poor work ethic. Courts and other legal proceedings are often slow for exactly the opposite reason; because the judges and their staff are so busy. Court dockets are often booked months in advance, meaning when new cases arise, they are sent to the back of the line, and that line may be rather long.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which oversees the federal civil service's disciplinary system, has been rather busy of late. Last year's sequestration and the unpaid furloughs that many federal workers endured, generated 30,000 appeals to the MSPB, which almost four times the agencies typical years' workload.

Fixing the VA by damaging employee due process rights

The new Veterans Affairs law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President has been praised as giving the new VA secretary the tools he will need to improve the agencies performance and allow it to recover from the healthcare scheduling scandal. It has also created a new precedent that must give all federal employees cause for concern.

Federal employees have traditionally had greater due process rights than most private sector employees because of the nature of their employer. The federal government has many political appointments, which could permit abuse and political pressure to be used to fire workers and fill their vacancies with political favors.

But they just moved your office, so what?

One area for employer abuse in situations involving whistleblowers is in the realm of office location and responsibilities. Employers can, of course, fire a whistleblower, which makes for an open and obvious set of damages for the employee.

But what happens to a federal worker when the "punishment" for whistleblowing is not so clear? A woman who raised concerns at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital is currently living out this scenario. She had been the chief spokesperson for the hospital, but after she and a group of other employees raised concerns over a hospital director's handling of the budget, she was accused of improper conduct.

House bill will allow broader court review for whistleblowers

For federal employees involved in an adverse job action because of whistleblowing, a hearing in front of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) may be necessary. If the outcome of that hearing is not favorable, the employee may have to appeal their case to a federal court of appeals.

Before the enactment of the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, their right of appeal would have been limited to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This court, sitting in Washington, D.C., has been particularly unfavorable for most whistleblowing cases involving federal workers.

MSPB rules to reinstate disability retirement benefits of Department of Justice employee

Federal workers who suffer a physical or mental injury related to their employment, may no longer be able to perform assigned work duties. In some cases, an individual's injury may be deemed temporary in nature and he or she may apply to receive workers' compensation through the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. In other cases, an injury may be more permanent in nature and the government employer may be unable to provide sufficient accommodation to allow the individual to continue their employment. In these types of cases, a federal employee may qualify for disability retirement.

In cases where a federal employee is granted retirement based upon his or her disability, he or she can file to receive a disability retirement annuity. One recent appellate case that was filed with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, involved the termination of a federal employee who qualified for a disability retirement annuity.

Federal employees removed, disciplined under the Hatch Act

With primary elections approaching, now is a good time to reiterate a few rules under the Hatch Act. The federal law, which was most recently amended in 2012, forbids federal workers from doing a number of things, all of which are political. Federal employees are forbidden to take part in political activities while at work or on federal property; receive or solicit political contributions while on duty; and run for office in a partisan election.

If a federal employee is found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, then he or she could face disciplinary action or removal. The Office of Special Counsel recently took such action against an employee of the United States Postal Service.

Phased retirement still a ways off for federal workers

Two years ago, Congress approved a program that would give federal employees who are near retirement the ability to work part-time while they trained in their successors. But little movement from the Office of Personnel Management has left a number of employees wondering what the law is and where they fit into things.

Called “phased retirement,” the program is regarded by many as a great way of “mentoring and training the next generation of civil servants” and was anticipated by a majority of federal employees nearing retirement. But the OPM has failed to create guidelines for how the program will run or what rules employees and employers will need to follow.

VA culture described as "corrosive" in report to the President

A new report on the problems with the Veterans Affairs health care system from the President's Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson describes a "corrosive culture," that has led to low morale and resulted in the delaying of health care to veterans.

The report details an environment where workers distrust supervisors and where retaliation takes place against workers who raise "valid complaints" about the system. The acting VA Secretary state that the "systemic problems and cultural issues" must be solved. 

Public employee testimony protected by First Amendment

Cases involving whistleblowing are always in tension. Employees, whether public or private, are expected to follow instructions of supervisors and managers, and owe a duty of loyalty towards their employers. At the same time, when employees observe wrongdoing, illegal behavior or corruption, they have an obligation as a citizen to report or testify concerning the matter.

While this seems obvious, a U.S. Supreme Court case last week helped clarify some of the details of a situation where a public employee testifies and is then fired, in apparent retaliation for that testimony.

VA promises protections for whistleblowers

The ongoing revelations of the events at many Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals involving the scheduling delays for veterans seeking health care services has left many employees of the VA positioned as whistleblowers. This has created a new set of problems for the VA and for those employees.

Within any business or bureaucracy, there is always a hierarchy of management. It appears at the VA that some managers attempted to manipulate the scheduling system to eliminate delays in scheduling by creating "off the books" tracking. Lower level employees were instructed by their managers to use this process, and many merely followed instructions.

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