Workers for any company have rights, and employees of the United States government are no different. When those rights are violated, a specific process is put in place with the aim of bringing about a just resolution. For some government workers, the federal employee administrative grievance process is the means of seeking that just solution.
To understand the different paths that exist in the government’s grievance process, it’s important to know that there is a different process depending on whether you have union representation. For employees who are under the union umbrella, the negotiated grievance process will be followed. The union rep and the relevant agency will work it out per the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.
It is important to note that Union grievances for bargaining unit members and non-bargaining unit/supervisory employees who work for federal agencies follow a different process. In this blog we will focus on employees who would not have a union representation or lawyer at their side in a grievance hearing. If you are non-bargaining unit, then you are likely facing the administrative grievance process.
Understanding Your Rights
Grounds for an administrative grievance can come about for a variety of reasons.
Here is just a sampling of ways that a federal employee’s rights can be violated:
- Your supervisor has strong political opinions, either about the upcoming election or a specific political party. You either disagree or are simply indifferent. If the supervisor responds by refusing to move you up the GS pay scale, your rights have been violated. Now that’s a blatant example. Less obvious–but more frequent–violations might include creating a hostile work environment. Developing that case requires documentation of incidents and can be helped by corroboration from co-workers. The help of a lawyer in putting all this documentation together into a winning case can be invaluable.
- Perhaps you work in an agency that monitors safety in industry. You are convinced that the agency is overlooking important violations of safety regulations. You choose to become a whistleblower and get the truth out. You cannot be targeted for reprisal in any way.
- There are a variety of ways a hostile supervisor might manipulate a job posting to prevent you from getting it. One method would be simply not posting it to members of your office. Another tactic might be to discourage you by telling you that someone else–with fewer qualifications than you have–is going to get the job. Or going one step further and making up a mythical person who is going to get the job, to discourage you from applying. Any of these tactics, so long as they can be proven in an administrative grievance process, violate your rights.
These are just a handful of the ways you can have the basis for a grievance. Facing this type of situation is always unpleasant, but the good news is this–there are more rights available to federal employees than there are in most private sector companies. At Pines Federal, we’re here to help you exercise those rights.
Filing Your Grievance
The government agency you work for will have a specific process and regulations that must be followed. It starts with timing. Depending on the agency and the nature of the violation, there will be a statute of limitations on how long you must file the grievance. Be aware that these can be short windows–sometimes as little as seven days–so there is no time to lose in getting counsel involved.
Once the grievance has been put in writing and presented, there is a meeting with you, your attorney, and whomever will represent the agency. The government’s representative will be given an opportunity to tell their side of the story. After the exchange of information has been completed, your attorney will propose a compromise solution.
The atmosphere in which this exchange and discussion take place can range from casual to formal. Depending on circumstances, it can feel like anything from normal conversation at the water cooler to being in a courtroom. The government as a whole only has broad guidelines, so there is a lot of flexibility in how each agency runs their process. Your attorney can help you not be intimidated (if the setting is extremely formal) or give in too easily (if the atmosphere conveys friendliness).
At this point, the decision on resolution still rests in the hands of the agency. If an answer comes back that you find unsatisfactory, there are still options. You can go beyond the grievance process and request a formal administrative hearing. This provides all the rights of a trial, except for a jury. Your attorney will get discovery rights–the ability to obtain documents from the opposing party, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. You (as well as the government) might choose to bring in additional information that was not used during the grievance process.
The administrative hearing is confrontational by nature. The desire to avoid it might spur your agency to resolve the matter during the more collaborative grievance process.
How We Can Help
You have the right to file your grievance without the guidance or presence of an attorney. But that is usually a mistake. Yes, we’re naturally biased on the subject, but at Pines Federal, we focus on federal employment law precisely because there are so many details and nuances to winning cases like yours. The value of experience with the process and knowledge of the law can be the difference in getting a satisfactory outcome, and good documentation can make all the difference. If you are a non-bargaining unit employee or bargaining, having an attorney at your side may also make your agency more amenable to a compromise solution early in the process.
So, reach out to us. We’re available by phone at (800) 801-0598 and you can always connect with us here online. Your job shouldn’t have to be miserable. If you’re going through something you shouldn’t be, let us work with you on a resolution.