Ask The Lawyer

By Debra Roth

Bill Bransford, champion of federal employees, dies

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William L. Bransford, a prominent lawyer serving the federal community and regular columnist for Federal Times, died Friday.

Bransford, who was fighting cancer, was 66.

As a partner at the law firm of Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. since 1983 and general counsel of the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and Federal Managers Association, Bransford helped pioneer the field of federal personnel law, along with his mentor, Jerry Shaw, who founded the law firm in 1982.

“At the time there was no such thing as federal personnel law,” said Debra Roth, a fellow partner at the firm who worked with Bransford for 24 years. “It wasn’t practiced as the specialty it is today.”

Roth said Bransford always exhibited a strong passion for public servants and deeply enjoyed working with them. “Bill got an immense personal satisfaction out of helping people who were in troubled times.” He viewed his own work as a public service, she said.

Though most of his career was in the private sector, Bransford had worked two years in the chief counsel’s office at the IRS, where he worked with Shaw. Bransford also served in the Army in Vietnam.

Bransford began writing the Ask the Lawyer column in Federal Times on Feb. 22, 2010. Editor Steve Watkins said the column quickly became popular with readers.

“Bill was very special in the sense that he combined a deep expertise in the field of federal personnel law with a deep personal passion for helping the men and women in public service when they needed it,” Watkins said. “His presence and role in the federal community has been enormous. He will be missed by many.”

Bransford served as general counsel for numerous professional associations, including the Federal Managers Association, FAA Managers Association and the National Council of Social Security Management Associations. He also advised several small federal agencies on federal personnel and employment law.

In addition, Bransford was a longtime member of the board of directors for the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which provides financial assistance to federal employees in need.

SEA President Carol Bonosaro said, “Bill’s contribution to SEA’s legislative achievements has been exceptional and his wise counsel invaluable. He was deeply committed to fairness and respect for federal employees in general and career executives in particular. All career executives owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Bransford is survived by his wife, Katheen (Kathy), son Michael, son Kevin and his wife Maria, daughter Mary Kate and her husband Juan, his five grandchildren, and his sister, Kathy.

Viewing services will be held at DeVol Funeral Home in Washington on Oct. 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. Funeral services will be held at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown on Oct. 2 at 10 a.m.

Memorial donations may be made to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund.

Q & A Session – LWOP Leave

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

I’m currently a federal employee within the Department of Justice, and a member of the Army National Guard.

My local HR department told me that prior to any use of leave without pay during my drill weekends or annual training, I was required (by the Department of Justice policy) to write a memorandum to my executive supervisor stating I would be using LWOP during a military absence and provide the exact dates of the LWOP usage. After this memo was signed by that executive supervisor, it would be routed to the time and attendance office to be filed into my payroll file. They also stated that this was the procedure to follow each time I needed to use LWOP during a drill weekend, annual training, or other military absence.

Is this accurate? Do I have to go through this entire process each time I want to use LWOP? 

A: 

You are entitled to LWOP while on duty, however, you are still required to follow agency leave procedures so that the agency is properly notified of your absence and can adjust your pay accordingly.

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – Probationary Periods

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

For the last 7 years, I was in the competitive service. I am also a veteran. Approximately a year ago, I transferred from a GS-1801 Competitive Service to a GS-1811 Excepted Service. Although I have changed job classification from general inspection to criminal investigation, I am still doing law enforcement work. Essentially, it is the same line of work; I just do more paperwork now. My new agency told me that I’m on a two year probationary period. Can they hold me to that probationary period? 

A: 

If you are doing the same or similar work, you cannot be required to serve a new trial period. I think the likelihood is that the new 1811 job would not be considered the same or similar. You will only find out if you fail your two year period and raise the issue at the MSPB. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – Secession Petition

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

I work for the federal government. Many of my coworkers are talking about a secession petition available to sign on the internet. I try to discourage their efforts and point out that I think it is a violation of their ‘Oath of Office’ they swore to when employed. Can this hurt their career? 

A: 

This is a very complicated issue not only because of the oath of office, but also The Hatch Act. This is because a secession petition could be considered political activity. I suggest you go to www.osc.gov, click on The Hatch Act and call the Office of Special Counsel  for an advisory opinion. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – Collecting Unemployment While on Furlough

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

If a federal employee was put on furlough without pay, could he/she apply for unemployment for that period? 

A: 

Generally, yes. However, you must be placed in LWOP (leave without pay) status for at least one full week to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Depending on the reason you were placed on LWOP, your agency may challenge your claim (e.g. if LWOP was a result of a disciplinary action, etc.). We note that each state has its own rules which determine under which specific conditions an individual may receive unemployment benefits. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – Reduction in Force

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

What factors go into reduction in force (“RIF”) decisions? 

A: 

OPM regulations require agencies to give effect to four factors when releasing employees as part of a reduction in force (“RIF”).

  1. Tenure of employment;
  2. Veterans’ preference;
  3. Length of service; and
  4. Performance ratings.

The regulatory requirements for a RIF may found in 5 CFR Part 351. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – False EEO or Harassing Conduct Allegations

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

What action can be taken when employees file false SSO or Harassing Conduct Allegations? 

A: 

Federal employees have little to no recourse against other employees who file false complaints. While it is a crime to make a false statement under oath in the course of an EEO investigation on litigation, such crimes are not often prosecuted. Additionally, agencies do not often take action against such false complaints to avoid the appearance of illegally retaliating against the EEO complainant and because it is difficult to meet the burden of proving a falsehood. A civil claim of defamation may be an option. However, the typical remedy for those falsely accused of discrimination/harassment is a find that the EEO complaint lacks merit. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – Security Clearance Denial

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q:

 I was granted an interim security clearance and started working 6 months ago. I still don’t have my final clearance yet. If my final clearance gets denied, am I able to get another federal position that doesn’t require a security clearance? 

A: 

There are many federal positions that do not require a security clearance. If your position requires a clearance, but you are denied one, you may appeal the denial or request placement in a position that does not require a clearance. However, the agency is not required to place you in a position which requires no clearance, and you could ultimately be terminated based on inability to maintain a clearance in a position that requires one. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Q & A Session – MSPB Suspension Review

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Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.

Q: 

I was given a Notice of Suspension for a 3 day suspension by my supervisor. My supervisor asked me to give an Oral Written Reply to the notice. The reviewing official issued the Notice of Decision to Suspend before I was allowed to give my reply. Can I appeal to the MSPB? 

A: 

Generally, the MSPB will not review suspensions which are less than 15 days. If you wish to appeal the decision on the grounds of procedural error because you were denied an opportunity to present an oral reply, most agencies will allow you to do so by grieving the decision. Ask for a copy of your grievance procedures or disciplinary actions from your employee relations office. 

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.

Understanding new Hatch Act rules

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Six months ahead of the first primary elections of the 2014 election cycle, government employees across the country should take notice of how, for the first time since 1993, Congress has expanded some public employees’ ability to participate in the democratic process, under the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012.

An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, the official name of the Hatch Act, as enacted in 1939, has long prohibited federal employees (with very limited exception) and many state and local government employees from engaging in partisan political activity, threatening career-ending penalties for violations of any degree.

Before the new law went into effect in February, public employees whose salaries were paid in any part with federal funding were not allowed to run for partisan political office.

The least severe penalty that could have been levied against a public employee found to have committed even a minor Hatch Act infraction, e.g., forwarding a political email using their government email account, was a 30-day unpaid suspension.

The new law was signed by the president in December 2012, the same year the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the federal agency charged with implementing the Hatch Act, received 503 new complaints of alleged Hatch Act violations, up from 445 in 2008, and from 108 in 1996 (the year of the first presidential election following the 1993 update to the Hatch Act), according to annual OSC reports.

It is unclear how the revised law will affect the number of new complaints filed with OSC.

However, it will assuredly reduce the number of Hatch Act violations that actually occur, reported to OSC or not.

The new law loosened restrictions on many state and local government employees. These employees, so long as not prohibited by state or local law, and whose salaries are not paid completely with federal funds, may now run for partisan political office.

And, employees and lower-level elected officials (such as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and members of the District’s State Board of Education) of the District of Columbia, who were formerly treated the same as federal employees under the Hatch Act, will now be treated the same as state and local government employees.

For federal employees, although it does not loosen restrictions on their partisan political activities, the newly revised law does allow OSC to acknowledge that not all unlawful political activities are equal.

Under the updated statute, OSC may now select from the full spectrum of traditional penalties to enforce the Hatch Act. So, instead of potentially ruining her career by facing a suspension of 30 days or more, the federal employee who forgets to remove a campaign button from her jacket before entering the office could merely be subject to a letter of reprimand, other minor discipline, or a civil fine up to $1,000.

All actions brought by OSC against public employees will still be heard before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). But, unlike the range of penalties available against federal employees, the only penalty available for the MSPB to impose when presented with a Hatch Act violation by a state or local government employee is to force the employing agency to either remove the employee or forfeit a portion of its federal assistance equal to two years’ salary of the employee.

Public employees seeking advice about their political activity under the Hatch Act may contact OSC for a written or oral advisory opinion.

Similarly, employers may contact OSC to request an opinion about the political activity of their employees.

Although it remains to be seen how the new law will affect the overall number of new complaints OSC will receive for alleged Hatch Act violations, there may be a boom in the number of advisory opinions issued by OSC, similar to the boom that followed the 1993 update.

So, if you have any questions about how the updated federal ethics law applies to either yourself or to someone you know, contact OSC for an advisory opinion; if experience has granted it wisdom, the agency should be expecting your (and thousands of others’) questions.

Specific contact information for obtaining an advisory opinion may be found on the OSC website, www.osc.gov.