The last thing you want to deal with in your career is an accusation of federal employee misconduct. It represents a black mark on your record that can upset your plans for a promotion or transfer. At the very worst, it can single-handedly destroy your federal career and leave you without a job.
For those reasons, you must know precisely what is considered misconduct in the federal workplace. Awareness is the first step towards avoiding misconduct. That’s why we’ve written this article. We will provide federal employee misconduct examples and unpack some of the charges that you will most likely encounter.
Above all else, it’s vitally important you understand the seriousness of federal employee misconduct. If your employer has accused you of misconduct, don’t try to fight the charge alone. Get help from a qualified MSPB attorney right away.
What Is Considered Misconduct for Federal Employees?
Most charges and penalties related to federal employee misconduct are simultaneously broad and straightforward. Generally, misconduct is an intentional act by an employee that breaks a rule, norm, policy, or regulation within the federal government.
As you might imagine, there are a plethora of rules and regulations that apply to you at any one time. Consequently, misconduct comes in various forms. However, note that misconduct is almost always an intentional act. The government must usually show that you consciously or recklessly broke the rules to be liable for misconduct.
Evaluating the Various Dimensions of Misconduct
While the types of misconduct vary immensely, certain principles apply to all kinds of disciplinary actions. For one, there’s the matter of severity. Not all types of misconduct are equally severe.
Loafing on the job or playing Solitaire on your government computer is far less serious than misusing a government vehicle or sexually assaulting a coworker. The perceived severity of the misconduct plays a critical role in the proposed penalty.
Another factor is your previous disciplinary history. You can expect to receive a more severe punishment if you have committed one or more infractions in the past. Yet another consideration is your role within the agency.
The more senior you are, the more your actions will significantly impact the agency’s function. Seniority is more often associated with leadership or role models, and a violation of that perception is taken seriously by government agencies.
Finally, “soft” factors come into play, like your agency’s culture, your supervisor’s approach towards discipline, and even illegal discrimination. These factors serve as metaphorical “icebergs” because they seem fairly unimportant at first glance but can greatly impact your agency’s actions towards you.
Federal Employee Misconduct Examples
For a clearer comprehension of the multifaceted nature of federal worker infractions, let’s consider a few examples:
- Insubordination. Willful and intentional refusal to obey a lawful order of a superior officer.
- Exceeding authorized access. Delving into computer systems or databases beyond your clearance or without necessary authorization can lead to severe discipline.
- Misrepresentation. Whether it occurs in official paperwork, during inquiries, or in other professional situations, any act of deceit is serious. Examples of misrepresentation include exaggerating work hours, presenting false qualifications, or withholding crucial information during department investigations.
- Abuse of government travel benefits. Utilizing official travel benefits for personal trips or without the necessary approval is a serious breach of government trust.
- Disrespect towards others. Behaving rudely, bullying, or creating a hostile work environment for fellow employees hampers morale and can be deemed a severe professional offense. It can also create significant legal liability for your employer, especially if they do not intervene to stop the unacceptable behavior.
- Mishandling of government funds. Misusing or diverting government funds, even for seemingly benign purposes, can have severe professional and legal consequences.
- Substance abuse. Notwithstanding state law, federal government policy towards drugs like marijuana is still incredibly strict. Therefore, consuming prohibited substances while on the job or coming into work intoxicated will undoubtedly land you in hot water.
- Unsanctioned external employment. Engaging in outside employment, especially if it conflicts with one’s federal role, without obtaining the required approvals is problematic.
- Failure to follow instructions/orders. Although this might seem minor, consistently ignoring or defying direct orders from supervisors can be serious misconduct.
This list is by no means exhaustive, as federal employment entails a myriad of guidelines and potential pitfalls. If you’re facing charges or unsure about a specific action, it’s always wise to consult with a knowledgeable legal professional.
When Should I Contact a Lawyer?
It’s always a good idea to be proactive regarding legal matters, especially in the treacherous world of federal employment.
Therefore, it’s wise to consult a lawyer if you suspect that you might be the subject of an investigation or if there are hints of potential disciplinary actions. Even if formal charges haven’t been presented, having legal advice can help you prepare and understand your rights.
At the very latest, you should obtain legal counsel when you receive formal discipline charges. An experienced federal employment attorney can help you understand the charges, the potential consequences, and the best approaches for defending yourself.
Contact an MSPB Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
Understanding the definition and dimensions of federal employee misconduct is only the first piece of the puzzle. It’s also essential to understand your due process rights, your opportunity to appeal, and the various ways you can overturn a charge of discipline.
While these topics are staggeringly complex and often confusing, you don’t have to learn about them on your own. If you were demoted or removed from your position, or suspended for 15 days or more, you have the right to file an appeal with the MSPB to protect your career.
Contact one of the passionate attorneys at Pines Federal. Our MSPB lawyers have the experience and the training necessary to defend your career and vindicate your rights. On top of that, we pride ourselves on our incredible customer service. You’re not just a number to us. You’re family.