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Punishing the retaliators

This is a thorny problem for any bureaucracy, but it certainly is a significant problem for the federal government. When a federal worker engages in whistleblowing, he or she is typically going outside the hierarchy of their department or divisions to bring notice to the problem or wrongdoing.

Managers greatly dislike having their authority and decision-making ability questioned in such an overt manner and may be personally offended by someone beneath them going around them and very likely embarrassing them. And this often leads to retaliation by the manger or supervisors. 

Judgment is needed to protect true merit

That managers are important in the operation of an entity is a commonplace. The proverbial statement that "A fish rots from the head down," apparently attributed to the Turks, is no doubt ancient in origin.

Nonetheless, the Ottoman Empire was known for having a complex bureaucracy, so it is apropos in discussing the federal government's employment practices and the work of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

EEOC reinstates DHS employee due to sex discrimination

In some employment cases involving discrimination, it is often difficult to discriminate between genuine reasons for an action and pretext. In the context of federal employment, managers or supervisors with the agency may unfairly discriminate against an employee, firing them, denying them opportunities for promotion or subjecting them to adverse job actions. However, they may claim they have a legitimate reason for their actions, creating the pretext.

Pretext can be a difficult employment case to prove, because it requires the employee to get behind the purported rationale. The agency may put forward various reasons for their actions, and many of them could be true, but are not in the particular case.

Veteran preference laws create complexity

Military service veterans are entitled to special preferences for employment in light of their service. Military service, even in time of peace, is often a risky job and as a nation, one of the rewards we provide those who have served is with preferences in federal employment.

Two laws, the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA), and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), are designed to protect the employment preferences and rights of veterans.

The VEOA works specifically to protect the rights of veterans who apply for federal employment. The USERRA, is broader, in that it protects the rights of veterans who leave their existing jobs in the civilian sector or federal government, and then return after a period of active duty military service.

SSA settles $9.9 million discrimination lawsuit

While the federal government is responsible for the enforcement of all of the federal employment laws and regulations in the U.S., it is also a very large bureaucracy. There are tens of thousands of employees and managers working in diverse jobs, including medical researchers, weather forecasters, park rangers, FBI agents and federal judges.

And this can lead to sometimes ironic juxtapositions. A case has recently settled involving the Social Security Administration and disabled workers. The irony here is the SSA is responsible for processing and administering claims for disability insurance benefits, and keeping workers who suffer some form of disability working with is generally advantageous for the system.

A long walk

Whistleblowers are sometimes seen opportunists, with the implication that they are looking for a short-term gain or profit by their actions. As if by whistleblowing, they were taking a short-cut to wealth and profits.

In reality, whistleblowing can leave them on a very long walk to obtaining relief. A case involving an Air Marshal who was fired by the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in retaliation after he informed the media and Congress that the agency was planning on eliminating air marshals on flights that would require an overnight stay by the air marshal.

Reasonable accommodation requires good faith negotiation

Disability can mean a great many things. When most people refer to someone as "disabled," they often are using it in a vague fashion, meaning the individual may be unable to perform some particular task.

While an individual who has lost their ability to walk or stand may not be capable of working as Border Patrol agent for the Department of Homeland Security, if they had training as an accountant or lawyer, they could easily be employed by the Internal Revenue Service, in a more sedentary position.

Are you being watched?

Your federal career is important to you and your family. You depend on the income and the job satisfaction, knowing that what you do provides an important governmental service. Obtain a job with the federal government can be time consuming and demanding, and when some event occurs that threatens that position, you need to respond appropriately.

And the best way to respond is to contact an attorney who is experienced handling federal employment law matters. Whether your issue involves questions that could eventually be in front of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), having an attorney to assist with your matter is essential.

Discrimination claim payments increase for federal agencies

Federal agencies have paid more money in discrimination case settlements in 2012 than any previous year, and exceeded the total from 2005, which had been the previous top year for payouts.

According to one analysis, it appears the number of larger lump sum settlements have increased. The agencies may be using the strategy to quickly end some discrimination cases to avoid expensive and lengthy Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proceedings.

No Colonel left behind

No matter how well intentioned, legislation that favors any particular group can cause bad feeling, resentment and litigation. Affirmative action has been a controversial topic since it was first introduced to address gender and racial equality, and veteran's preferences are potentially likely to cause similar controversy.

The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently released a report regarding veteran's preferences in hiring practices for civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Based on their findings, the MSPB recommends the use of an oversight process to ensure that veterans who are hired, obtain their jobs on merit and not by favoritism or other inappropriate means.

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