The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently released the results of its 2021 survey on prohibited practices. The report features a number of key talking points, but one stands out. Federal agencies have become increasingly partisan, and more employees have suffered adverse actions based on their political viewpoints.
The MSPB survey compared favorably in many ways to the previous results from 2010 and 2016. Federal employees reported that they saw fewer prohibited practices overall. As a result, they were generally happier staying with their agencies. But the increase in politically motivated actions stood out as one of the main talking points.
Political affiliation is a protected class
As the MSPB notes, 5 U.S.C. section 2302 identifies 14 prohibited personnel practices (PPPs). Agencies that take these actions do so in violation of federal law. The first of these PPPs is discriminating against anyone due to their membership in one of nine protected classes. These include race, color, sex and religion. They also include political affiliation. The law also says that agencies and employers may not coerce an employee’s political activities.
Despite this fact, survey respondents noted an increase in politically motivated discrimination. This discrimination not only violates the law, but it runs counter to the perceived drop in other PPPs:
- The number of respondents who claimed they had witnessed PPPs dropped overall. It dropped from 34% in 2010 and 46% in 2016 to 29% in 2021.
- Partisan politics were at the heart of the only two PPPs to increase by more than two percent since 2010. The MSPB reported that these PPPs had both become twice as common since 2010.
- Discrimination on the basis of political affiliation rose from 3.2% in 2010 to 7.1% in 2021.
- The coercion of employees’ political activities rose from 2.3% in 2010 to 4.6% in 2021.
These two PPPs are not the most common. Survey respondents still reported that discriminatory hiring was the most common PPP. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex and age also ranked among the most common PPPs. However, the problem is that politically motivated PPPs have become more common. Even as others have dropped. And in an increasingly divided America, federal employees will want to pay more attention to these threats.
What can employees do?
It’s important to remember that partisan PPPs are more than a nuisance. They’re illegal, and they have serious repercussions. The MSPB survey noted a long-standing correlation between PPPs and job dissatisfaction. Additionally, adverse actions can have a ripple effect. A bad review can keep you from a future promotion and hold you back for years or decades.
It is possible to fight back, but it’s rare to find success on your own. Federal employment laws are long and complex. You need to know what evidence can support your case, and you need to think several steps ahead. For this reason, combatting politically motivated PPPs often means working with an experienced attorney.