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Exhausting administrative remedies

If you are a federal employee and have suffered any type of adverse job action, from disciplinary proceedings to reassignments, reductions in grade or termination, you do have options to protect your job and your career.

However, your future is controlled by the operation of the federal Civil Service laws, and it is vitally important that you follow all of the necessary steps in that process. It will not come as a shock that these steps can be bureaucratic and they may seem exhausting, but if you fail to exhaust your administrative remedies, your case could wind up being dismissed from court.

Such a situation appears to have been the result for a group of FDA whistleblowers, who recently had their case dismissed by a U.S. District Court for failing to exhaust their administrative remedies before taking their matter to federal court.

The case involved spying on employees by the FDA, after the employees had reported medical devices that placed patients at risk. The agency read personal email accounts of the employees, and they charged the agency with a prohibited personnel action.

The Office of Special Counsel is still reviewing the matter, but the whistleblowers will need to return the agency's administrative procedures for personnel grievances.

Their federal court case was dismissed without prejudice, so their claims can still be brought, but they must complete all of the administrative steps first before they can have their case return to federal court.

When you speak with your attorney regarding your federal employment dispute, ask them to explain the procedure for your agency to ensure that you have not skipped a step and that you have adequately exhausted your potential administrative remedies before moving to federal court.

The Washington Post, "Judge dismisses lawsuit by FDA whistleblowers," Lisa Rein, September 24, 2014

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