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Protective email practices for federal workers

You are reading this so it might be a little hard to imagine the sound, but what do you think of when you read, "Doink. Doink!" Hopefully what comes to mind is the sound effect that plays at the opening of every episode of TVs "Law and Order." And, by association, perhaps what that leads you to recall are the words of the Miranda warning: "Whatever you say may be used against you."

These are good words to remember if you are ever arrested, but they are also helpful to federal workers every time they sit down to compose an email, whether it's an initial communication or a reply to someone else's. That's because email use in the federal workplace environment is highly regulated and suspicions of misuse could increase the risk of career-ending disciplinary action.

Whistleblower retaliation: What whistleblowers need to know

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Federal employees have a right to expose (or "blow the whistle" on) their employers if they are aware harassment, discrimination or other illegal actions by the company or employer.

Employees should not hesitate to come forward with this type of information. Federal employees are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. 

Fear spurs federal worker use of encrypted communication

Making and enforcing policy in any organization is a tough job. Federal workers tasked with such work face the additional hurdle of having to try to accomplish it under the shadow of competing political ideologies and oversight.

Laws are in place protecting workers' rights to due process. And, in the current political environment, some may argue that they need to organize not just for their own sakes but for the good of the country as well. This clearly has many wondering what options exist for them to continue communicating without violating government rules on openness and transparency.

Protections for transgender people may be in jeopardy

Transgender workers in the District of Columbia are protected from employment discrimination, but workers in other states and cities, such as Texas and Atlanta, may be vulnerable. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still considers discrimination against transgender people to be illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that forbids sex-based discrimination. However, its position might shift.

Establishing rights for transgender people has been a long and complex legal process. In January 2015, the Department of Education said that schools had to treat students as they wished based on their gender identity. This was reinforced by the DOE and the Department of Justice in 2016 when the departments said that schools must allow students to use facilities based on their gender identity or they would not receive Title IX funding.

Employee rights in Washington D.C.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives employees a variety of rights and protections against discrimination. Under the act, government agencies and employers with 15 or more employees are prohibited from discriminating based on someone's race, color, sex, religion or national origin. This prohibition extends to all aspects of employment, which includes hiring, promotions, terminations and determining rates of compensation. Additionally, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers with more than 20 employees from discriminating against individuals over the age of 40.

Women also have specific protections that are designed to ensure equal pay. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 states that women must be paid at the same rate of men if they are doing the same type of work. The exceptions for this are if a merit or seniority system is in place or if pay is based on quality or quantity of production.

Disability discrimination in the workplace

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, workplace discrimination complaints rose in 2016, and the complaints pertaining to a worker's disability seem to be increasing. More than 30 percent of the charges in that yearwere related to disability discrimination, even though disabled persons make up only about 20 percent of the population and a smaller percentage of the workforce, both in private industry and in federal government.

Only 17.5 percent of people who were disabled were employed in 2015, according to available statistics. The low rate can be attributed to the facts that some disabled people cannot work, have no interest in working or must stay unemployed in order to retain certain benefits. There is also the fact that some would like to be employed but are unable to find work. Disabled individuals who are employed usually have part-time or temporary positions that may not provide them with stability or benefits.

What impact do elections have on federal employee turnover?

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Elections can have a significant impact on federal workplaces. Obviously, the federal hiring freeze ordered by President Trump directly impacts federal employees. But in a broader sense, a change in administration typically comes with an increase in employee turnover - namely the first year the new president is in office.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review discusses this phenomenon, using data collected from the Office of Personnel Management.

Freeze could send more than shivers through federal workforce

The recent change in government isn't unusual. That doesn't mean it is without its wrinkles. While President Trump's executive order freezing hiring is something anyone could expect, the level of confusion resulting is more unsettling. While some agencies reportedly are exempt, the order's lack of detail is ginning up confusion for workers in those same agencies and others across the country.

Attorneys with depth of experience in protecting federal worker rights and welfare understand how sudden administrative moves can ripple through the fabric of institutions. In this instance, the freeze order includes instruction for the Offices of Management and Budget and the Personnel Management to, "Recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government's workforce through attrition." 

What's the right forum for my wrongful termination appeal?

Due process is a bedrock principle of our legal system. For federal workers in Texas and across the country, it is also a foundational element of employment; providing civil servants with avenues to protect themselves against actions that might result in wrongful dismissal.

The legal theory used to support a government worker's right to due process is one that might be a little mysterious for some readers. Its roots trace directly to the Constitution and its guarantee that government can't deprive an individual of life, liberty or property without due process. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court found that in some cases civil service laws and established government hiring practices make it possible to say that property rights extend to jobs.

Is federal employee resistance wise in the Trump universe?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice in the United States makes clear that a service person's duty is to "obey any lawful general order or regulation." Failing to do so can mean a court-martial and dire consequences. The key word in that bit of code is "lawful." Many legal observers would argue that if a service person is obliged to follow a lawful order, he or she has an equal obligation to disregard an unlawful order. They might also argue that the same rule applies to civilian federal employees in Texas and elsewhere in the system.

The issue, however, is that it is not up to the individual to decide what is or is not a lawful order. You might question if an order is lawful when it is issued, but a final determination about whether it is or not may require a trip through the court system. That can take a long time. In the meantime, a conscientious employee refusing to follow an order could be facing discipline or discharge. There are avenues available for protecting employee rights, but they, too, are complex and can take a long time.

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