A recent audit revealed that the IRS has failed to process discipline in a timely fashion. Of the 6,100 actions initiated over a 12-month period ending in mid-2020, more than a quarter remained unresolved. Many of these actions were more than half a year old. At the time of the audit, one unresolved action was a full 827 days old.
Whether or not the actions were justifiable, delayed proceedings can raise anxiety levels, hurt morale and reduce performance throughout the agency. As Fedweek reported on the story, its authors focused on the negative effects such slow discipline could have on the agency and the public’s perception of it. However, the report raises another question: How swiftly should employees expect agencies to process these actions? No one wants to live forever under the cloud of discipline.
Reasonable time for consideration
A 2018 executive order established several government-wide disciplinary rules. These rules clarified that managers could propose discipline that suited the misconduct. They didn’t need to concern themselves with progressive punishments or previous penalties for similar offenses. They also clarified how swiftly agencies should resolve their disciplinary cases. In most cases:
- Agencies must allow employees 30 days to respond to the proposed discipline
- Agencies must issue a final decision within 15 days of the employee’s response
As the math has it, that means you should expect most cases to resolve within 45 days of the initial proposal. However, the IRS cases suffered delays for multiple reasons. As Fedweek noted, those reasons included:
- Managerial inaction
- Employee challenges
While it’s reasonable to think of the first two factors as agency problems, the third factor deserves a bit more attention. After they complete their probationary periods, federal employees have a right to challenge and appeal proposed discipline. These appeals can take time, especially since employees want to craft them carefully. Their responses should address the proposals but may also aim at future rounds of appeal. The contents of an appeal may eventually find their way before a judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Not all delays are bad
Naturally, if a case moves outside the IRS to one of these external reviews, the move will create delays. That does not make the delay unreasonable, however, as federal employees deserve to bring the facts to the fore.
Many federal employees aspire to lengthy careers within the federal government and their agencies. They recognize the chances they have to make an impact. You don’t deserve to see your career stall because of unfair discipline. You deserve a fair and impartial review of your case. You should also expect your agency to move it forward with reasonable expediency.