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Federal Employment and Labor Law Blog

When Work Causes A Mental Health Impairment

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Many jobs are stressful. But some jobs are so stressful that they cause employees to develop mental health impairments - or in some cases, aggravate pre-existing impairments.

There are two types of work-related injuries: Physical and psychological. Most people think of physical injuries - back injuries, bone fractures, repetitive stress injuries - when they think of a workplace injury.

Shield of law for VA whistleblowers about to get stronger again

The effort to shore up the Department of Veterans Affairs and counter the view of President Trump that the agency is the most corrupt in government continues. The latest move happened last week when the House of Representatives passed yet another bill expanding protections for potential VA whistleblowers. The measure passed the Senate in May and garnered a rare show of unity in the House – passing the chamber 420-0.

As we have observed before, the VA bears the stigma of being a symbol of all that is wrong with the federal government. One of the biggest complaints is that there are too many bad actors in the VA ranks – especially in the administrative echelons. Critics say current employee rights laws make it too difficult to weed out the bad actors efficiently. Additionally, there are concerns that employees who try to make a difference by blowing the whistle become victims of illegal job retaliation.

It's hard to know what's what when national security is a factor

In our previous post, we introduced readers to Kalkines and Garrity. These are forms of warning similar to the one most people are familiar with – the Miranda warning. One key thing that makes them different is the circumstances in which they are used. Federal officials are required to issue Kalkines/Garrity warnings to interview subjects when they investigate suspected or alleged misconduct. If the purported wrongdoing is criminal in nature, authorities are required to Mirandize you before placing you in custody.

There is another significant difference between the warnings. While Miranda lets you know that you have a right to remain silent and that that anything you say could be used against you. Kalkines/Garrity is supposed to make clear that you don't have a right to remain silent, but that you do have criminal immunity for anything you do say. Obviously, it's an important distinction for protecting rights of federal workers.

You know Miranda. Now meet Kalkines and Garrity

There is a warning about your legal rights that nearly everybody knows, even if they have never heard the words directly from an investigator. If you have ever watched a cop show on television you appreciate that "you have a right to remain silent" when being questioned. And, anything you say after you have been read your rights can be used against you in a court of law. It's the Miranda warning.

Officials conducting investigations involving federal employees have similar obligations to inform those they question about their rights. It's called the Kalkines/Garrity warning. If you've never heard of this, it's time you did to be confident you are protecting your rights to the greatest possible extent if the need arises.

Are U.S. 'sonic attack' victims getting all the help they need?

The reports are clear. Some U.S. diplomats in Cuba say they have come under sonic attack while serving at the embassy in Havana. Officials put the number of individuals at 21, but one official says there have been nearly 50 attacks all told. In addition, new U.S. workers heading to posts on the Caribbean island nation are being warned that they could become victims, as well.

The whole matter is mired deep in mystery. Cuba adamantly denies any involvement and U.S. and Canadian investigators trying to identify what's going on have come up dry. Yet, it's clear the victims have suffered. Symptoms reported include hearing loss, nausea, dizziness and brain damage. The symptoms vary victim to victim, however, and so do the stories of what victims experienced.

Streamlined VA firing rules might spark new legal challenges

One of the specific targets under the Trump administration's "drain the swamp" theme is the alleged corruption in the Veterans Affairs department. The VA has been in the crosshairs for several years after discoveries that veterans were dying because of delayed treatments and apparent administrative cover-ups of those delays.

Prompted by complaints that federal employment laws make it too difficult to get rid of bad actors, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law new rules aimed at speeding up the firing process. While the intent of the law is clear, it would be a mistake for workers facing adverse action to think that avenues of appeal have dried up. Change just means that consulting an attorney about your options is more important than ever.

Divisive Country, Divisive Workplace?

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The United States is a divided nation politically. Last year's presidential election, recent events in Charlottesville, and other events have caused deep and destructive rifts among Americans.

These sentiments are permeating all aspects of life, including the workplace.

Press for weapons has led to eased security, warns DOD official

Federal employment is a highly competitive arena. Certain certifications, such as security clearances, are highly coveted because they open doors to opportunity and advancement. At the same time, losing the classification can mean the end of a career.

Right now, the environment for government workers, whether they are in an agency or employed by a contracting firm, is more challenging than usual. The party in power currently has stated a commitment to reducing the size of the workforce. If you have security clearance, but face losing it and everything else you have worked for, you have more reason than ever to exercise your right to protect your rights, livelihood and reputation.

Do you know the legal route your job dispute case might take?

It seems the first answer for almost any legal question is, "it depends." While that can be frustrating to someone seeking advice, it should come as no surprise. In one respect, the uncertainty is a plus. It reflects that every case is different and deserves judgment on its own merits. Any other approach would reduce the rule of law to little more than rubber stamp actions.

There is an array of laws ensuring due process for federal employees in work disputes. But the path of jurisdiction for any given case can vary. A case might start in one agency, such as the Merit Systems Protection Board or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but appeals might require going to one of several courts. Identifying the possible course of action can be daunting without a skilled attorney's help.

Protecting federal worker rights in midst of 'distrumption'

If you try to look up the word "distrumption" in the dictionary, you won't find it. That's one of the interesting things about language. It can change with the times, and right now, we think it might be argued that distrumption seems to express what is being felt throughout the federal government and its workforce. That is not a statement about the rightness or wrongness of what's happening – merely an observation of current conditions.

The array of news headlines related to this is testimony to the upheaval. Just within the Veterans Administration, there is the case of the former director of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center who is fighting agency findings that he "failed to provide effective leadership." At the same time, there is the case of a respected pain management doctor at a VA center in Missouri who says he's the victim of whistleblower retaliation after flagging bad opioid therapy management policies.

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