Ask The Lawyer

By Debra Roth

Q & A Session – Unethical Supervisor

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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 a federal agency and have concerns about my supervisor’s work habits. He routinely takes long lunches and uses his government phone to conduct personal business, among other things. There are many examples of unethical practices, but am I overreacting? What should be done?

A:

You are describing making yourself a whistleblower. What you are disclosing is a protected disclosure, but many whistleblowers experience reprisal. If you decide to disclose the wrongdoing you believe you are observing and experience reprisal, you may file a claim with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

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 – Do Contractors have Rights in a Federal Investigation?

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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:

My husband is a contractor for a federal agency. He was called on Monday and told to stay home on administrative leave because a federal civilian employee had filed a complaint against him at work. They did not tell him what the complaint was, only who complained. He was notified today by email that they were trying to relocate his cubicle away from the complainant but still does not know why he is being punished. He hasn’t been given the opportunity to defend himself. There has not been any meeting set up with supervisors and the employee to try and fix this. Nobody has called and updated him or asked him his side of the story. What are his rights as a contractor working for the federal agency? What should he do at this point?

A:

Most contractor employees are at-will and do not have any rights in a federal investigation. Their employment relationship is between the employee and the company that has the contract with the government.

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 – Denied Sick 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:

Last year, I requested four hours sick leave to see my doctor. The leave was requested at least days in advance, and I explained that I was in pain at the time and was completely out of medication. But my leave was denied. Is my supervisor allowed to deny sick leave?

A:

You are entitled to sick leave to take care of a sick family member or if you are personally incapacitated. Management does have some discretion to deny sick leave for medical appointments based on a need for you in the office. However, it must be reasonable and allow you to use sick leave for your medical appointment if you can be spared.

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 – Acknowledgement Order

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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 submitted my EEOC case and Report of Investigation for a hearing in June. The EEOC said they received it and have assigned it to an Administrative Judge but I still have not received an acknowledgement order. The EEOC also gave me a case number. I though the AJ has 20 days to submit the acknowledgement order to the complainant? What should I do next?

A:

You may be confusing the EEOC with the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB acts very quickly when an appeal is filed. The wait for an EEOC acknowledgement order after filing a hearing request is getting longer and longer. This is due at least in part to a shortage of judges and the lack of resources to hire more of them.

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 – Suing after Employee Filed Charges of Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

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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:

An employee I supervise filed charges of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. The agency conducted a fact-finding investigation and the employee, myself and several other employees the employee identified were interviewed and had to sign affidavits.

The agency head met with me last week and said there was no evidence or proof otherwise of any of the charges, and that a formal letter closing the case would be issued.

Because of the false and malicious allegations, I was under extreme mental duress and did not apply for a local opportunity that I was well-qualified for. In addition, because higher level management officials had to be notified, and most employees at the local level were aware of the charges, my reputation was damaged.

Can I sue the employee and the agency for defamation of character, false and malicious claim and extreme mental anguish?

A:

No. The employee’s filing of a claim would most likely be found to be within the scope of the employee’s job and the employee is thus immune from a lawsuit. The agency also cannot be sued on the grounds you state.

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 – Signing a PIP

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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 have worked for the federal government for 28 years with 15 at my current agency. My current agency wants to put me on a Performance Improvement Plan, but I have decided to take deferred retirement. I have not signed the PIP and sent it back. Since I am retiring, do I have to sign the PIP? If I don’t, what could the agency do to me if anything?

A:

You do not have to sign the PIP for it to be in effect. If, at the end of your PIP, the agency believes your performance to be unacceptable, it may propose your removal. You do have the right to challenge that proposal and appeal an adverse decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but under a standard of evidence very favorable to your agency.

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 – AWOL 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 am an exemplary career employee of almost 30 years. This year, my husband became ill and I exhausted all my leave. I asked for 4-5 months of Absence without Leave which would give me time to submit my retirement packets and begin receiving benefits. The request was denied as was my request to work from home. Other employees have been allowed to telework and were granted up to a year of Leave without Pay. What would you recommend? Is there anything in federal law that would assist my request? I am not being charged AWOL as I cannot return to work due to spouse’s medical condition and may face disciplinary action. I have never abused leave or asked for Leave without Pay.

A:

I do not understand why you asked for AWOL rather than LWOP. If other employees have been granted LWOP and you had asked for LWOP and it was denied, you might have a defense to an AWOL misconduct charge.

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 – Notification of EEOC Complaint

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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:

When personnel receives a notice from EEOC notifying them an EEOC complaint has been lodged against a supervisor or employee, is it recommended to make the supervisor aware of the pending complaint? Or should we just wait until the investigative process leads to the supervisor?

A:

EEOC does not notify agencies about EEO complaints. That usually comes from the agency’s EEO office. Most agency EEO offices will tell a supervisor who is accused of discrimination about the complaint early on in the process.

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 – Stealing Confidential Documents

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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 is the penalty if a federal employee steals several confidential federal documents and shares them with other employees who do not have a legitimate need to know?

A:

This sounds to me like it could be grounds for removal, and, depending on the reason the documents are confidential, criminal penalties could be imposed.

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 – Hatch Act

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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:

Regarding the Hatch Act, I know that jokes in email, blogs, etc., are out of bounds. But can one employee show another an Onion parody of the Republican National Convention speaker lineup on a piece of paper? In the workplace as a sidebar?

On one hand, it is a newspaper. On the other, it was pretty funny.

A:

There’s an allowance for what are called “water cooler” discussions, and it sounds like what you are talking about may fit that exception. Still, it is best to keep politics out of the federal workplace. And, if you are a supervisor, do not show your Onion article to a subordinate. It will likely be misinterpreted.

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.