| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What Is Bullying Under Federal Law?

If you have suffered bullying in the workplace, you might be able to receive relief under federal law if the bullying has certain characteristics. As a federal employee, you can maintain a legal action for bullying if that bullying also qualifies as harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. If you are unsure if bullying at work is actionable, don’t resign yourself to the stress and fear, contact an experienced workplace bullying lawyer immediately for help. Is Workplace Bullying Illegal? It depends. Federal work bullying laws are really laws against harassment. Employment bullying qualifies as illegal harassment if it’s a condition to continue your employment or it’s severe and pervasive enough for a reasonable person to consider it hostile. Bullying cannot be illegal harassment unless it’s unwelcome conduct motivated by one of the following factors: Race, Color, Religion, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender identity, Pregnancy,  Age (if you are 40 or older), Disability, Genetic information, Family history, or Medical history. Your employer can be guilty of harassing you for being a member of a protected group mentioned above or for perceiving you to be a member of a protected group. Your employer can be liable for harassment committed by a supervisor, one of their agents, a co-worker, or a non-employee. You also don’t have to be the person harassed to maintain a legal action. If harassment of another person affects you, you could have a claim.  Can I Sue for Workplace Bullying? Yes. Legal action against workplace bullying is available to you if the bullying fits the definition of harassment under federal law. However, federal employees can bring workplace bullying lawsuits only after they have followed the steps to make an administrative complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.  What Is the Procedure for Filing Workplace Bullying Complaints and Workplace Bullying Lawsuits? There are many steps on the way to filing a lawsuit against your employer for harassment. Suing for workplace bullying can be a complicated process, and a lawyer for workplace bullying can help you fulfill every step. Filing a Workplace Bullying Complaint If you are a federal employee, bullying in the workplace law requires that you first reach out to an EEO counselor at your employer’s agency within 45 days of suffering harassment. You can either take part in counseling or alternative dispute resolution (ADR).  If ADR or counseling doesn’t solve the problem, you can file a formal complaint with your agency’s EEO office. You have 15 days after receiving an EEO counselor’s filing notice to file a complaint.  The agency can either dismiss your complaint for procedural reasons, or conduct an investigation. The agency has 180 days to investigate. After investigating, the agency gives you a notice about asking for a hearing or issuing a decision about whether there was discrimination.  If you want a hearing, it is held before an administrative law judge. You have 30 days from the agency’s hearing notice to file for a hearing. You can request a hearing in writing or online. After the judge makes a decision, the agency gets 40 days to decide if they are going to grant you relief that the judge orders. This decision is called a final order.  If you don’t agree with the final order, you can request an appeal within 30 days. You can also ask for reconsideration of the appeal decision within 30 days. If you follow the procedure correctly, you have many chances to get justice against harassment. An experienced attorney for workplace bullying can preserve your rights at every level of the process.  Filing a Workplace Bullying Lawsuit Once you have been through the administrative complaint and appeals process, you can file a bullying-at-work lawsuit. There are a number of different times when you can file a lawsuit, depending on the situation. To file a lawsuit against your employer for violating laws against workplace bullying, you have to follow these timelines: You can file after 180 days have passed since filing your complaint, if there hasn’t been an agency decision or appeal; You must file within 90 days of receiving an agency decision on your complaint, if there hasn’t been an appeal; You can file after 180 days have passed since filing your appeal, if there hasn’t been an appeal decision; or You must file within 90 days of receiving an appeal decision. A workplace bullying attorney can determine if the time is right for you to file a lawsuit and champion your rights to a safe workplace in court. If you are curious about workplace anti-bullying laws by state, many of them are similar to the federal laws (though deadlines and procedures vary). But you must follow the federal procedures above if you are a federal employee.  Contact an Attorney for the Protection You Need Please remember that you don’t have to endure every hostile behavior at work to receive a paycheck. The workplace bullying lawyers at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC are experienced in federal employment law and dedicated to protecting federal employees’ rights. Contact us online or call us at 866-508-2158 for the guidance and protection you need.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination in the Workplace—What You Should Know

We all know that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable, and we all know that no federal employee should have to put up with it. However, not everyone knows that all kinds of discrimination are illegal. When most people imagine a discriminatory situation, they imagine racial minorities as the victims of racial “majorities.” They may be more accepting of discrimination when it operates in “reverse.” However, so-called reverse race discrimination is equally wrong and just as illegal as “regular” discrimination.  At this point, you might be asking yourself, What is reverse discrimination? In this article, we will discuss reverse discrimination’s definition and the situations which best describe reverse discrimination.  If you think that you are the victim of reverse race discrimination, contact a workplace discrimination lawyer right away.  What Is Reverse Discrimination? The definition of reverse race discrimination can be difficult to describe, and the term itself is controversial in some circles. The simplest definition is this—reverse discrimination occurs when a majority group is discriminated against by a minority group. Reverse race discrimination, for example, occurs in situations where historic racial minorities (like blacks or Hispanics) discriminate against white Americans based on their skin color.  The fact that the target of discrimination belongs to a majority group does not exclude them from the protection of workplace discrimination laws. Discrimination is discrimination. It does not matter whether the victim is white, black, Christian, Muslim, handicapped, or able-bodied. Workplace discrimination lawyers know that discrimination laws apply to all groups, and can help any victim of any form of discrimination.  Which of the Following Is an Example of Reverse Discrimination? Let’s consider a few examples of discrimination to understand which of the following situations constitute reverse discrimination: An African-American boss repeatedly harasses his white subordinate because of his race, uses racial slurs, and denies him a promotion because the subordinate is “way too white for this office”;  A woman repeatedly makes derogatory sex-based comments to her male co-worker, frequently derides him as “just another stupid man,” and tells him that a woman could do his job better; A Christian employee humiliates his Hindu colleague by trying to make him eat beef and telling him that his faith “has too many Gods.” Which of the following is an example of reverse discrimination in America? If you guessed the first two scenarios, you’d be correct. The first scenario was reverse race discrimination because a black man, a member of a racial minority, was discriminating against a white man based on race. Similarly, the second scenario also constituted reverse discrimination. Sex-based discrimination has historically targeted women, so reverse discrimination occurred because a woman was making condescending sex-based comments to a man. However, the third scenario was not reverse discrimination because Christianity is a majority religion in the United States. So while the Christian in that scenario was harassing and potentially discriminating against their Hindu coworker, that would constitute normal discrimination of a minority.  What Should I Do If I Am the Victim of Reverse Discrimination? Discrimination is discrimination no matter what the victim’s race, gender, or religion is. If you are experiencing reverse discrimination, consider taking the following actions: Tell the offender to stop, if you feel comfortable doing so; Record your interactions with the individual; Consult a supervisor about the problem if possible; and Go speak to someone in your agency’s EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) office. After you have taken these first steps, you need to consider hiring an attorney who handles cases of discrimination at work. Hiring an attorney for employment discrimination can help to resolve the reverse discrimination problem quickly. Furthermore, employment discrimination attorneys are familiar with all kinds of discrimination and can evaluate your case to see if you are eligible to obtain compensation. Finally, if you file a complaint against your agency, a federal employment workplace discrimination lawyer can help your case by collecting evidence, obtaining witnesses, and conducting settlement negotiations. Do You Need a Workplace Discrimination Attorney? Employment discrimination is always wrong, whether it is reverse discrimination or not. Now that you know reverse discrimination’s definition, you will know when to contact an employment discrimination attorney.  If you are currently experiencing such discrimination, you need an employment discrimination attorney right away. However, not all attorneys are of the same quality. Therefore, it is critical that you hire an attorney that has experience with your kind of case and is familiar with the unique features of the federal workplace.  Here at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, we are dedicated to helping federal employees stand up for their rights. Over the years, our firm has helped countless federal employees with all kinds of discrimination complaints. Unlike other law firms, we are familiar with all of the dynamics of the federal workplace. We will help you stand up for your rights and hold discriminatory actors accountable. Even if you don’t know whether you need an attorney, you have nothing to lose by setting up an appointment. All of our initial consultations are free, so contact us right away.

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | Federal Retirement

What to Know About Federal Medical Retirement

If you’re a federal government worker with a medical condition, you may be able to take advantage of the federal government’s medical retirement. Civil service medical retirement is possible if you are a civil servant with a disabling medical condition. However, your agency first needs to determine that it cannot accommodate or reassign you. If you are in the army national guard or the reserves, you will have to follow a different medical retirement process.  OPM’s Medical Retirement Definition and Eligibility Requirements According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), medical retirement (or disability retirement) is available for employees with disabling medical conditions who cannot work effectively for their agency. Specifically, employees are eligible for federal government medical retirement if: They have completed at least 18 months of creditable federal civilian service under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS); They have become disabled because of a medical condition, such as a disease or injury; Their disability is expected to last at least one year; Their agency is unable to effectively accommodate their disability in the employee’s current position; and The employee’s agency cannot reassign the employee to another vacant position (often because no such positions exist). An employee must also apply for Social Security disability benefits before applying for federal government medical retirement. Finally, they must apply for disability retirement within one year of separation.  Need Help with Planning Your Federal Medical Retirement? Medical retirement in the government is complicated. That’s true whether you follow OPM’s medical retirement process as a civil servant or the IDES process. On top of that, the federal government often makes mistakes. Even the smallest mistake regarding your medical condition could turn your medical disability retirement plans upside down.  For those reasons, if you are considering applying for medical retirement, your best choice is to contact a knowledgeable federal employment attorney.  At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, we handle all kinds of federal employment cases. Over the years, our firm has helped many federal employees with medical retirement issues. We aim to help you access your rights as a federal employee. All our initial consultations are free, so contact us right away.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Harassment

What Is Unlawful Harassment Under Federal Law?

Unlawful harassment occurs when an employer treats a person or group differently from others who are similarly situated. If you work for the federal government and believe that you have experienced unlawful workplace harassment, there is a specific procedure you must follow to get relief. Today, we will discuss the basics of what constitutes harassment under federal law, and what federal employees can do about it. What Is Unlawful Harassment? Unlawful harassment is a form of employment discrimination violating multiple federal acts designed to provide equal rights to all employees. These include: Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  This conduct could be based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, genetic information, or disability. Types of Unlawful Workplace Harassment Conduct Unlawful harassment can include verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct. Verbal or Written Harassment  Verbal harassment may include insults, derogatory slurs or comments, or name-calling. Invasive questions about a person’s body, appearance, clothing, customs, or sexual activity may also qualify as unlawful workplace harassment. Verbal harassment includes written, emailed, or text statements.  Visual Harassment Visual harassment can be harder to detect or prove. But examples include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive noises, hostile eye contact, and derogatory or offensive images. Offensive images can come in many forms, including images on the clothing someone wears to work. Physical Harassment Physical harassment can include unwanted proximity. This can include following, standing close to, or actually touching someone. Sexually suggestive hand gestures or facial expressions can be categorized as physical harassment as well, even if there is no actual contact. And of course, actually touching someone else’s body without permission in any type of sexual or unwanted manner is prohibited. What Is Unlawful Retaliation? Retaliation is a specific form of discrimination that may occur in response to an employee making a good faith complaint about workplace harassment or discrimination. Retaliation can also happen in response to the refusal of sexual advances or defending others from advances. Requests for disability or religious accommodations may also be met with retaliation. Unlawful retaliation occurs when an employer changes the terms of employment such as responsibilities, pay, schedule, or other factors as a form of punishment.  What Three Factors Are Commonly Used to Determine Unlawful Workplace Harassment?  Not all offensive actions rise to the level of illegality. Petty slights, annoyances, or isolated incidents, though bothersome, may not be severe enough to constitute a claim for unlawful harassment. According to the EEOC, there are three factors commonly used to determine unlawful workplace harassment:  Whether the harassment was extensive enough to create a hostile or intolerable work environment for the employee; Whether the victim tolerated the harassment to keep or obtain their job; and Whether the harassment was a retaliatory response to an employee filing or participating in a complaint. If any of these factors are applicable in your situation, you may be eligible for financial compensation.  Process of Filing a Formal Unlawful Workplace Harassment Complaint for Federal Employees If you have experienced unlawful harassment in a federal workplace, you have options to assert your rights. It is important to note that these are legal remedies and the best way to achieve the results you deserve is to hire an experienced EEOC attorney.  Contact Your EEO Counselor Each federal agency has an EEO counselor. Contact your designated counselor within 45 days of when the discrimination occurred. This is the first step prior to filing a formal complaint with the EEOC. The counselor can walk you through the process. You may have multiple options for filing. An experienced EEOC attorney can guide you through this process.  Alternative Dispute Resolution After speaking with your EEO counselor, federal employees may participate in alternative dispute resolution. This typically means mediation, and is a good opportunity to try to resolve issues at the lowest level. However, if this does not resolve the problem, it may be time to file a formal complaint. File a Formal Complaint If your unlawful workplace harassment dispute cannot be resolved using alternative dispute resolution, your EEO counselor will provide you with a written notice that gives you the right to file a formal complaint within 15 days. The notice will explain how to properly file the formal complaint.  Agency Investigation Once the agency accepts your discrimination claim, they will initiate an investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, you may request an immediate final decision or a hearing before an administrative judge.  Hearing Before an Administrative Judge Hearings are not always a part of the EEOC formal complaint process depending on your claim. During the hearing, your case is presented to the judge who reviews information from both sides and makes a decision whether or not there was discrimination.  Final Decision and Appeal The federal agency will review the judge’s decision. If the judge found unlawful harassment, the agency can implement the judge’s orders or its own remedy. Federal employees may still appeal to the EEOC’s appellate division, the Office of Federal Operation (OFO), within 30 days if the remedy is unfavorable.  Suing for Unlawful Workplace Harassment The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, can help you understand your complaint and the financial impact of the harassment. Our team is passionate about helping federal employees assert their rights and can help you collect evidence and build your case. Contact us today for your free case consultation.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What to Know About Secret Clearance After You Leave Your Federal Job

Certain federal jobs deal with sensitive information that requires a higher level of trust in the employee. To make sure only qualified people get these jobs, the government requires these employees to obtain some level of security clearance. But what happens to that secret clearance when you leave your job? More importantly, how long does secret clearance last? What Is Secret Clearance? The U.S. Government grants secret clearance, also called security clearance, to people who prove themselves trustworthy enough to have access to classified information. The government further divides secret clearance into different levels based on the sensitivity of the information involved in the job. Top secret clearance is the highest level, and grants cleared employees with the highest level of access. Confidential clearance is the lowest level, granting cleared employees the lowest level of access. Finally, secret clearance is in the middle. How Long Does a Secret Clearance Last? While employed as a contractor for a government agency dealing with classified information, your secret clearance will remain in effect indefinitely. However, this doesn’t mean it will never expire. Employees with secret clearances must undergo periodic reinvestigations to make sure they’re still eligible. The exact period between each reinvestigation varies based on the level of clearance you have. Five years for top secret clearance; Ten years for secret clearance; and Fifteen years for confidential clearance. Other reevaluations may occur at more random intervals to make sure secret clearance employees aren’t engaging in illegal conduct. When Does Secret Clearance Expire? Many federal employees wonder how long does a secret clearance last once they leave their federal job? Put simply, your security clearance “terminates” when you leave your federal job permanently. However, it’s important to understand that when your secret clearance terminates, it doesn’t disappear completely. Instead, a terminated secret clearance changes status from “active” to “current.” In other words, while you’re employed, you have an active secret clearance. When you leave that secret clearance “deactivates” and changes to current status. So when does it actually go away? Secret clearance expiration is two years from the time it “terminates” and becomes inactive. Can I Have My Secret Clearance Reactivated? While your secret clearance is in current status, you can reactivate it without going through the entire approval process. If you have any other clearances on top of your secret clearance, those may need to be re-obtained after a certain period of time. Generally, however, you can reactivate your secret clearance within two years. If My Secret Clearance Expires, Will It Be Easier to Obtain New Secret Clearance in the Future? No. Once your secret clearance expires, you will have to start the whole process over. That means filling out Standard Form 86 again and undergoing a background investigation before your new secret clearance will be granted. What Happens to My Secret Clearance If I Get Fired? You might think that getting fired means you automatically lose your secret clearance. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Remember that employment termination can happen for a variety of reasons, not all of which warrant immediate expiration of your secret clearance. For example, if you’re a government contractor, your contract may end, leading to your termination. In this case, you likely haven’t done anything to indicate that you’re untrustworthy or no longer eligible for secret clearance. On the other hand, if your termination involved any of the “Adjudicative Criteria” for security clearance eligibility, you’ll have any future attempts at secret clearance denied. The Adjudicative Criteria are a list of guidelines for determining eligibility for secret clearance, and include: Allegiance to the United States and any foreign influence that might affect you; Personal conduct, including sexual behavior and drug and alcohol use; Your psychological condition; Criminal conduct; and Your ability to handle protected information. You can view the full list of Adjudicative Criteria at the website from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Does My Secret Clearance Apply to Private-Sector Employment? Not necessarily. Although some private-sector jobs involve sensitive or confidential information, government security clearance only applies to positions working for the federal government. Accordingly, your clearance may still be useful if you switch to another government agency or go to work for a government contractor. If you apply for a position in the private sector, however, your security clearance won’t apply. Still Have Questions? Contact a Federal Employment Lawyer Today The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC, focuses on assisting federal employees in a wide range of issues. If you’re dealing with discrimination, worried about blowing the whistle, or need more information about your rights as a federal employee, we can help. We’ve helped hundreds of federal employees get their jobs back or stop discriminatory workplace behavior. Contact us today through our online form or by phone at (833) 833-3529 to schedule a free consultation.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Filing Workers’ Comp for Stress and Anxiety—What Federal Employees Should Know

Most federal workers are familiar with the workers’ compensation program, operated by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). The OWCP allows for workers who suffer a work-related injury to obtain medical and income-replacement benefits while they are unable to work. What fewer people know, however, is that federal employees can also obtain workers’ compensation for mental health disorders as well. Read on to learn more about when you can get workers’ comp benefits for stress and anxiety. If your federal employment is responsible for causing or exacerbating a mental health condition, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, we proudly help government employees who were injured on the job obtain the benefits they need and deserve. With extensive experience handling a wide range of workers’ compensation cases, including many involving mental health diagnoses, the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing is well-equipped to effectively handle your claim. Stress and Anxiety in the Workplace Stress Stress is the body’s normal response to emotional or physical tension. In some cases, stress can help you overcome obstacles that you may not have otherwise been able to overcome. However, in larger amounts, stress can be detrimental to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. According to a recent survey done by the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers experience high levels of stress in the workplace. And roughly a quarter of all participants indicated that their job was the primary source of their stress. Of course, this may not come as news, as every job can occasionally be stressful. However, there is a point where the everyday stress of a job crosses the line and becomes something more damaging. Anxiety Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which someone displays excessive anxiety or worry on most days, for a period of at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorder often seriously interferes with someone’s ability to live their life the way they intended. For example, common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include the following. Irritability, Drowsiness, Inattentiveness, Feeling on-edge, Muscle tension, and Sleep problems. Panic attacks are another form of anxiety disorder in which someone experiences unexpected periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include: Heart palpitations, Trembling, Shortness of breath, Sweating, Feelings of doom, and Feeling out of control. Panic attacks can be very scary and sometimes require immediate medical attention.  Can You Get Workers’ Compensation for Stress and Anxiety? Yes, federal workers can obtain workers’ compensation benefits for stress and stress-related conditions such as anxiety. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering filing an application for workers’ comp for stress and anxiety. If you have a diagnosis of anxiety, you will have an easier time obtaining benefits than if you are basing a workers’ compensation claim on stress alone. However, you will still need to show that your anxiety was either caused by your job or that your job exacerbated your existing case of anxiety. Applying for workers’ compensation benefits for stress is even trickier because there is often no diagnosis. When it comes to getting workers’ compensation for stress, consider the following questions. Is the stress severe? Regular, everyday stress is not the type of stress that the OWCP is concerned with. Stress is a normal part of almost every job, yet not everyone can rightfully file a workers’ comp stress claim. Thus, to be eligible, you must show that your occupational stress is severe, to the point where it is more than you can withstand. Is your job objectively stressful? If you find your job to be very stressful but your colleagues do not, you may have a harder time qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits. This is because you must show that your stress is objective to obtain benefits. This means that others in a similar situation experience the same level of stress. So, if you are particularly susceptible to the stressors of your workplace, you may have a harder time obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for stress. Is your stress job-related? To succeed in any workers’ comp claim, you must show that your injuries (physical or emotional) are related to your occupation. Stress is no exception. In fact, it is actually more difficult to prove stress is job-related because most people have other sources of stress in their life. For example, the OWCP may claim that your stress was caused by genetic factors or issues outside the workplace. Are You Suffering Severe Stress or Anxiety Related to Your Federal Employment? If you are a federal employee and are currently suffering from stress or anxiety, contact the workers’ compensation lawyers at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing for immediate assistance. At our federal workers’ compensation law firm, we represent federal employees in all types of work injury claims—including those involving mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety. Unlike many other local employment law firms, we represent only federal employees, giving us an unparalleled knowledge of the laws and regulations that govern our clients’ cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Workplace Discrimination

Federal Hostile Work Environment–What to Know

Discrimination in the workplace is illegal under federal law. In some cases, it is clear your employer is discriminating against you. However, that is not always the case. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), discrimination is grossly underreported. In fact, the EEOC reports that three out of four employees who experience harassment on the job don’t do anything about it. While several factors contribute to this, one reason why employees don’t report discrimination is that they aren’t able to identify it.  A hostile work environment is when the hostile actions of a fellow employee or manager objectively create an intimidating or threatening work environment. If you believe you are experiencing discrimination at the workplace, reach out to the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. Attorney Wersing is a federal hostile work environment attorney with extensive experience handling all types of employment discrimination matters. He has successfully represented countless clients in hostile work environment claims, helping them stop illegal discrimination in the workplace. What Makes a Hostile Work Environment? Under federal law, discrimination is illegal when it is based upon an employee’s protected trait. A hostile work environment is a type of harassment, which is included in the definition of discrimination. A hostile work environment claim is based on an employer allowing an intimidating environment to exist for one or more employees. Notably, it does not need to be a supervisor or a manager who creates a hostile work environment for an employer to be found liable. Hostile work environment claims can be filed when discrimination is based on any of the following traits: Age, Disability, Gender identity, Genetic information, National origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Sex, or Sexual orientation. At its core, a hostile work environment claim addresses the unacceptable situation where an employer allows severe or pervasive discrimination to take place on their watch. This “severe and pervasive” language is key, as minor annoyances or petty insults do not generally rise to the level of a hostile work environment. Typically, a one-time insult will not create a hostile work environment. However, if it is severe enough, it may. More often, hostile work environment claims are based on ongoing patterns of behavior. More specifically, the conduct must be such that a reasonable person would consider the conduct intimidating, hostile, or abusive. For example, the following can all contribute to a hostile work environment: Offensive jokes; Slurs or epithets; Ridicule or mockery; Insults; Physical threats; Name calling; Intimidation; The use of offensive objects; and The posting of offensive material. If you believe that your employer has allowed a hostile work environment to persist, reach out to a hostile work environment attorney for assistance. When Is an Employer Liable for Allowing a Hostile Work Environment? Hostile work environment claims come in two forms. The first type is when a manager, supervisor, or executive is the harassing party. In these situations, an employer is automatically liable if the harassment results in any negative employment outcome such as termination, lost wages, or a missed promotion. However, even if an employee does not suffer an adverse employment outcome, the employer will still be liable unless they can prove 1.) they tried to stop the harassing conduct, and 2.) the employee “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.” The second type of hostile work environment claim involves a fellow employee’s harassing conduct. In these situations, it can be a bit harder to establish employer liability. To do so, you must show that the employer knew about the harassment (or should have known about it) and failed to take “prompt and corrective action.” For this reason, if you believe that you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, it is imperative that you register your concern with your employer. Not only will this allow your employer to remedy the situation, but it will also preserve your ability to file a federal hostile work environment claim against them if they fail to take your concerns seriously. Can an Employer Fire You for Reporting a Hostile Work Environment? Absolutely not. Employers are strictly prohibited from retaliating against an employee who reports any type of workplace discrimination, including a hostile work environment. The strength of your case is not important. The mere fact that you raised the claim (even if it later turns out your employer was not liable) protects you from any retaliation. If an employer retaliates against you for bringing a possible hostile work environment to their attention, you should immediately consult with a lawyer for hostile work environment claims. Contact a Federal Hostile Work Environment Lawyer for Immediate Assistance No one should live in fear of getting up and going to work. If your supervisors or colleagues are discriminating against you, you need hostile work environment attorneys who are ready to stand up for your rights. At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, we proudly represent federal employees in all types of employment law disputes, including those involving hostile work environment claims against their federal employing agency. We have extensive experience bringing cases against all federal agencies across the country, and we are prepared to go up against them to preserve your right to a workplace free of hostility and discrimination. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a federal hostile work environment attorney today, give us a call. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

COVID-19 Paid Leave as a Federal Employee—What to Know

Since the COVID-19 Pandemic began last year, tens of millions of Americans have fallen sick with the disease. To help protect its workers and their families, the government has offered several benefits to federal workers who experience difficulties because of COVID-19.  If you’re one of the many federal employees with coronavirus, you’ve probably asked yourself, Do I get paid if I have COVID-19? The good news is that there is paid COVID-19 leave for federal workers who had the disease, been quarantined, or had to care for an ill family member. Take a moment to learn more about whether you are eligible for federal COVID-19 leave.  Is There Federal COVID-19 Leave? Yes. The latest effort to provide federal employees with leave began in March. At that time, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). ARPA included a provision that granted federal employees up to 15 weeks of emergency paid leave (EPL) under certain COVID-19-related circumstances. As outlined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), employees can obtain COVID-19 leave if they meet one of eight qualifying circumstances. Here are several of those circumstances: The employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; The employee is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or recovering after experiencing side effects from the vaccine;  The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine order that is based on COVID-19; The employee received advice from a doctor or other health care provider to quarantine due to COVID-19; The employee is caring for a family member who is subject to a COVID-19 quarantine order; or The employee is caring for their child because the child’s school or place of care is not open due to COVID-19.  To receive the paid sick leave, the employee must be unable to work at their office and unable to work from home because of the qualifying circumstance. Also, federal agencies cannot force any employee to use other forms of paid leave before requesting EPL.  Limitations of Federal COVID-19 Leave Under the American Rescue Plan Act Unlike regular paid sick leave, EPL has a monetary cap. An employee will receive 100% of their salary if that salary is less than $1,400 per week. EPL provides no compensation beyond that cap. Therefore, if you normally make $2,000 a week in your federal position, you’ll only receive $1,400 for each week you use EPL.  Also, there is a small window of time to use emergency paid leave. Employees can only use EPL between March 11 and September 30. 2021. Finally, the government set aside a limited amount of money—$570 million—to pay for emergency paid leave. If those funds run out before September 30, 2021, then you cannot receive EPL.  Who Processes EPL Claims? After you request EPL from your employer, they’ll decide whether or not to accept your request. Assuming they accept your claim, they will forward it to OPM for reimbursement. However, it may take time for OPM to resolve your claim because it processes EPL claims on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s one reason why it’s important to request EPL sooner rather than later.  What If I Had COVID-19 in 2020? You cannot request EPL if you had COVID-19 last year. Before passing ARPA, the government offered federal COVID-19 leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. After Congress passed the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, OPM released clarifying guidance for all federal agencies. According to that guidance, EPSLA gave employees up to 80 hours of paid leave if they were in quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or caring for a family member. EPSLA’s paid sick leave equaled 100% of the employee’s regular pay if the employee was in quarantine or had COVID-19 symptoms. Unlike EPL, EPSLA’s COVID-19 leave did not have a pay cap.  So Do I Get Paid If I Have COVID? Yes and no. There isn’t a law that gives COVID-19 payments specifically to federal employees. However, federal employees indirectly receive payments through EPL because it is paid leave. Moreover, any federal employee who made less than a certain amount of money ($75,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a couple) received stimulus checks earlier this year.  Is Your Employer Giving You the Federal COVID-19 Leave that You Deserve? Getting COVID-19 can be a devastating experience with long-lasting effects. Because of that, the new federal COVID-19 leave law grants you special rights for COVID-19-related situations. If your employer is denying you emergency paid leave or retaliating against you because of your sick leave request, they may be infringing on your rights.  At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wesing, PPLC., we work to help federal employees stand up for their rights. We have many years of experience assisting hundreds of federal employees with a huge range of federal employment problems. If you think your employer is violating your rights, contact us online or call (833) 833-3529 for a free initial consultation today. Don’t wait. Let us help you!

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Retirement

Federal Retirement and Your Service Computation Date—What to Know

Working for the federal government comes with many benefits. As a federal employee, you can enjoy regular working hours, ample health benefits, a generous retirement package, and some protections against being fired or laid off.  However, many of these retirement benefits depend on your service computation date (SCD).  For that reason, it’s essential to understand what a service computation date is and how to calculate your own service computation date.  Once you understand your service computation date, you can plan your retirement date and assess when you will be able to access certain employment perks.  What Is a Service Computation Date? A service computation date is a date used by the federal government to determine what benefits you should receive and when you should start receiving them. SCDs are applicable in both the current Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and its predecessor, the Civil Servant Retirement System (CSRS).  That said, there are several different SCDs. A more precise service computation date definition depends on the type of SCD. Below are the four different types of SCDs. Leave Service Computation Date  Your leave service computation date relates to your annual leave accrual. All federal employees gather annual leave at a rate of four hours per pay period during their first three years in service. After three years of service, federal employees accrue annual leave at six hours each pay period. After 15 years, the annual leave accrual rate increases again to eight hours per pay period.  You can locate your leave service computation date on Block 31 of every standard form 50 (also called “SF-50”) in your personnel file.   Retirement Service Computation Date  Your federal retirement SCD indicates when you will be eligible for retirement. As with the leave SCD, it is usually the date that you began your first federal appointment.  However, the leave SCD and retirement SCD can vary if you served in the military prior to joining the federal service. Military veterans can choose to add their time in the military to their time in the federal service by “buying back” their military time and making that period of service count towards their SCD. To do this, veterans must submit a “deposit” equal to a small percentage of their military base pay when they were on active duty.  Thrift Savings Plan Service Computation Date  The Thrift Savings Plan is a savings and investment retirement account that constitutes one of the core pillars of FERS. The TSP allows the employee to contribute their own funds towards a retirement account. The government will then match the employee’s contributions up to a certain point. It’s almost like a 401K plan operated by the government.  5 CFR §1603 includes a vesting requirement for the funds contributed by the government. Under this requirement, the government’s contributions to an employee’s TSP only vest after the employee has three years of service.  The TSP service computation date represents the date that a TSP participant begins to fulfill the three-year vesting period.  Unlike the retirement SCD and leave SCD, the TSP SCD does not include prior military service.  Reduction in Force Service Computation Date  Although rare, federal agencies occasionally lay off employees through a reduction in force (RIF). The agency determines who to lay off first according to seniority. The earlier your RIF SCD, the lower the chance that your agency will lay you off.  Unlike the other SCDs, your RIF SCD can be adjusted by your performance ratings over the previous four-year period. Your appointment type can also affect your RIF SCD. How Can I Calculate My Service Computation Date?  Now that we’ve discussed the concept of the various service computation dates, you might be wondering, What is my service computation date? As you might be able to guess by now, the answer depends on which service computation date you are trying to calculate.  The leave SCD is easy to obtain because it is listed on your SF-50. However, the other SCDs are harder to calculate because they are affected by factors like prior military service and past performance.  For more information on your SCD, you should either contact your human resources office or a federal employment attorney.  Are You Considering Whether to Sue Your Federal Employer? Federal agencies are far from perfect. A mistake by your employer could easily affect your service computation date and your access to government employment benefits.  If you think that your federal employer has incorrectly calculated your SCD or is wrongly denying you benefits, contact the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC.  Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of federal employees with a wide variety of federal employment problems. We are committed to protecting the rights of federal employees. Don’t hesitate to contact us or call (833) 833-3529 for a free initial consultation today. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing

Although being a federal employee has many benefits, it carries certain responsibilities as well. One of these obligations is to not use illegal drugs. To ensure that federal employees comply with this restriction, the government sometimes requires them to receive regular drug testing. In other situations, the government requires employees to be drug tested before starting a position.  However, there isn’t one clear-cut approach to drug testing. The exact federal employee drug testing policy varies from one position to the next. Because the rules around federal employee drug testing are far from straightforward, it’s critical to learn about drug testing laws to protect your rights.  A Brief Background of Federal Drug Testing Laws Prior to the 1970s, drug testing was unheard of in the United States. However, this changed during the Vietnam War. High levels of drug usage amongst American soldiers abroad and throughout the growing counterculture prompted the government to launch a “war on drugs.”   In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order (EO) 12564, which mandated that all government employees refrain from using illegal drugs at all times. It also stated that anyone who uses illegal drugs is unsuitable for federal employment.  Common Federal Employee Drug Testing Situations Executive order 12564 defined various circumstances where federal employees could receive drug testing.  Testing Designated Positions (TDPs) Under executive order 12564, each federal agency had to develop its own federal employee drug testing policy. One part of making an agency-wide drug testing policy is designating certain jobs as “testing designated positions” (TDPs). Any employee occupying a TDP can receive a drug test at any time. Agencies typically test a certain percentage of employees occupying TDPs each month. While the exact policy varies somewhat, federal law requires agencies to test at least 30% of all employees in TDPs every 12 months.  Each federal agency is free to designate any position as a TDP. However, the Department of Health & Human Services released guidance in 2010 to help agencies determine which positions should be TDPs. According to the DHHS guidance, some positions are “presumptive” testing designated positions. “Presumptive” TDPs are those that the agency must designate as TDPs unless there is a compelling reason to not do so. Examples of “presumptive” TDPs include: Positions requiring the use, possession, or maintenance of firearms; and Positions involving the use of a motor vehicle, aircraft, or train. The DHHS’s guidance also identified “preferred” TDPs which include: Presidential appointments; Frontline law enforcement positions; Drug rehabilitation positions; and Positions requiring security clearances.  If you are in a TDP, know that you may be subjected to a drug test at any time with little or no advance notice.  Federal Government Pre-Employment Drug Tests Whether a position is considered a TDP or not, agencies can make passing a drug test a condition of employment. When that happens, agencies can mandate that job candidates receive drug tests prior to beginning employment with the agency.  When Can Federal Employees Who Aren’t in a TDP Be Drug Tested? Every federal employee, regardless of whether they’re in a testing designated position, can receive a drug test in two situations after they have begun employment.  The first situation is if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the employee is under the influence of illegal drugs. The agency can base its reasonable suspicion on various signs, including physical symptoms of being under the influence of drugs, abnormal behavior, and an arrest for drug possession or drug trafficking offense. The second situation is if the employee is involved in a work-related or vehicular accident.  Can I Get in Trouble for Using a Drug That Is Legal in My State? Yes. This is a common issue with marijuana now that it is legal for recreational or medical use in 36 states and Washington D.C. Even if a drug is legal under your state’s laws, it can still be illegal under federal law. And because federal laws control every federal workplace, you can be disciplined for using any drug that the federal government says is illegal. What Drugs Do Agencies Test for? The most common drug classes that agencies test for are: Marijuana, Cocaine, Opiates (heroin, opium, etc.),  Amphetamines Methamphetamines, and PCP. However, agencies can test for any illegal drug.  Want to Learn More About How Federal Drug Testing Laws Affect You? Federal drug testing laws and policies aren’t really straightforward. On top of that, federal agencies are far from perfect. If your employer is forcing you to get a drug test without reason, they may be infringing on your rights. At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wesing, PPLC., we work to guarantee that federal employees get the treatment they deserve from their employers. We’ve helped hundreds of current and former federal employees over the years stand up for their rights. So if you think that your federal employer is violating your rights, contact us or call (833) 833-3529 for a free initial consultation today.

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