A Social Security Administration (SSA) claims representative who also acts as a grievance vice president for his local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has been placed on administrative leave after a protest. Using washable window paint, the man wrote several messages on the windows of a Troy, New York, SSA office building in protest of President Trump’s recent executive orders targeting unions.
There appear to be several issues surrounding this discipline. First, no one at the agency has told the man exactly why he is being disciplined.
Second, the U.S. Code limits the time federal employees can be put on administrative leave to 10 work days per calendar year. Those 10 days have elapsed.
Agencies can place employees on additional investigative leave during misconduct investigations, but that requires giving the employee written notice. The protesting claims representative has received no such notice.
In fact, he has no idea what the agency plans for his future, although he senses they plan to issue a removal notice. Agency leadership has changed the access code to the building, which is standard whenever an employee leaves for an extended period of time. They have not, however, asked for the man’s keys.
On the day the protest messages were discovered, the man told his district manager that he was responsible — and that he planned to file a grievance if the messages were taken down. The district manager called the state police.
When the police showed up, the protestor took responsibility. The officers simply took a report and left. This is likely because the protest doesn’t constitute a crime. Under New York law, according to the protestor, graffiti is only illegal if done with the intent to damage property, and he used easily washable window paint.
Later, federal officers appeared. It was then that the district manager announced the man would be put on administrative leave until further notice. A colleague who was called in as a witness confirmed that the protestor was given no specific reason for the leave and offered no timeline for resolution.
The agency says it is awaiting police reports on the incident before making any further decisions.
His local union president says there is little the union can do at this point. “How can you plan a counter to something you have no idea what you’re countering?”
When a federal employer breaks the rules on administrative leave, it is not only violating the worker’s rights but may also be breaking the law. Workers do have legal recourse when their discipline exceeds what is allowed, and a federal employment law attorney may be able to help.