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Federal Employment and Labor Law Blog

Divisive Country, Divisive Workplace?

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.

What factors does the MSPB consider in discipline reviews?

Discipline is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. This is as true within the construct of the federal employment system as it is in any other. It's for this reason that no two cases brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board in appealing disciplinary action are ever alike.

Consistency in discipline is something most would agree is a goal to strive for. However, there is really no way to ensure uniform action across an organization the size of the U.S. government. Every agency experiences misconduct by some employees, but not every manager deals with improper behavior the same way. Being late for work might trigger no response from one boss. Another might crack a harsh whip.

Is HR On Your Side?

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When issues arise between an employee and an employer, human resources is usually the department that assists in seeking a resolution.

Most employees have confidence in their HR departments. But whose side is HR - or these other departments - really on?

Higher per diem rates won't put fed workers in any Trump hotels

Using per diem allowances to pad reimbursements for business travel happens. It's not supposed to, but it does. One way the federal government tries to manage the risk is by setting limits on what employees can recover for expenses incurred for work-related travel.

The latest standards in this regard were recently announced and are due to take effect as of Oct. 1. The good news for workers is that the General Services Administration has approved an increase in the per diem rate. The less good news is that it covers only housing expenses and the hike amounts to just $2 a day for hotel stays over current rates. The rate will go from $91 to $93. The per diem for meals and incidental expenses remains the same at $51.

Leaking, whistleblowing: Is there a difference?

President Trump expressed support for leaking when it suited his election campaign. Now that he's in office, his attitude is changed. Some might liken the flow of leaks from within the administration to having a screen door on a submarine. Boats with such a design flaw cannot stay afloat long, and so it is that the president has been goading his attorney general to take some action. It appears to have worked. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said recently, "We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop."

Considering the potential for adverse actions, many in the government workforce who could blow the whistle on mismanagement often do not. Leaking might be seen as an alternative. In addition, if you are a manager caught in the midst of such a situation, you could find yourself needing legal representation to protect your interests, even as you try to navigate the complex federal labor and employment laws.

Is the military transgender ban legal?

There are a lot of issues in the political pot in Washington these days. Some are legitimate. Some have been created by presidential tweet. Some observers suggest that the Twitter energy expended by the current resident of the White House is little more than a "dead cat" strategy. The idea being that the more ingredients he can throw into the stew, real or not, the less focus there can be on things that might disrupt the administration's agenda.

One of the latest tweet subjects to trigger reaction is the president's announcement declaring that the U.S. will no longer "accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." Service people are federal employees. Like other civil servants, there are laws that protect against discrimination on the job. Special due processes might apply because of the uniqueness of military service. But the laws are there.

What changes are in new fed antidiscrimination act?

The U.S. House recently passed a new bill aimed at responding to discrimination in the federal government workplace. The Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act of 2017 cleared the lower chamber on a unanimous voice vote.

That unanimity is something of a rarity in Washington these days. The measure is now wending its way through the Senate its fate is thus, yet to be determined. In the meantime, workers in the field might be wondering what changes the bill would make in current handling of employee discrimination claims. Assuming it makes it through Congress and is signed into law, here's what could result.

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