The Veterans Administration (VA) has been in the news a lot lately. And this news is of interest to federal employees because it all centers around their rights to contest disciplinary actions.
As a federal employee, you enjoy the protection of laws that say your agency needs to reward you according to your merits. If your agency wants to discipline you, it needs to show the decision is rooted in your failures. In one news item, we see efforts to bring the VA back into line with these expectations. In a second piece of news, we see legislative efforts to relax the VA’s merit-based responsibilities.
VA settles with the American Federation of Government Employees
As Federal News Network reported, the VA recently announced a massive settlement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). This settlement could put an end to the numerous cases that resulted from the VA’s improper firing of employees.
A strange law sits at the center of these terminations. Lawmakers passed the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to help the VA expedite its discipline of poor performers. However, the law lost much of its bite as the result of various rulings.
For example, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently overturned the termination of one VA employee because it found the VA had applied the wrong standard of proof. It had tried to use the lower standard of proof found in Chapter 43 actions. However, the MSPB found that the VA should have applied the higher standards from Chapter 75. Notably, this ruling significantly undercuts the VA Accountability Act’s ability to expedite discipline, and the Federal News Network reports that the VA has largely stopped using the law.
Even so, the settlement doesn’t center on these legal complications. Instead, it centers on the AFGE’s complaint that the VA failed to abide by its labor-management agreement. The agreement required VA supervisors to work with employees and union representatives to develop improvement plans before firing or demoting anyone. Because the VA didn’t always take this step, it must now allow a host of former employees to return to work or compensate them.
Lawmakers want to make it easier for the VA to fire employees
Even as the VA is taking steps to correct its undue firings, House Republicans were trying to make it easier for the VA to fire employees again.
As Government Executive recently reported, Republican members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted along party lines to advance the Restore VA Accountability Act. The bill would make it easier for the VA to fire and demote employees. It would also prevent some employees from appealing their cases to the MSPB.
The bill is unlikely to become law. Democrats claim it unfairly strips employees of their current legal protections. The Government Executive claimed they were unified in their opposition, which means the bill is most likely dead in the water at this time.
Fight for your rights as a federal employee
Taken together, these two news items don’t just show that the VA sits at the center of a legal firestorm. They show how important it is for federal employees to fight for their rights. Yes, there are laws that provide you certain protections. But those laws don’t enforce themselves.
Instead, as a federal employee, you need to stand up for yourself. This is true regarding both unjust discipline and potential threats to your legal rights.