| Read Time: 4 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

What Should Whistleblowers Know Before They Act?

Whistleblowers are underappreciated heroes, and calling out wrongdoing in the federal workplace is a noble action. However, it is not something you should do lightly. Before you do anything, you need to know what a whistleblower is. On top of that, it is vital that you understand your rights as a whistleblower before you act.  So if you are considering reporting wrongdoing, read this whistleblower guide carefully. We will discuss the definition of a whistleblower and the protections that a whistleblower action provides. You should also contact one of our attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC for specific legal advice regarding your situation. What Whistleblowers Should Know First: The Definition of a Whistleblower The most important thing you need to know is what makes you a whistleblower according to the law. In other words, to become a whistleblower, what actions do you need to take?  In the federal workplace, you need to make a “protected disclosure” to qualify for whistleblower protections. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines a “protected disclosure” as “any disclosure of information that an employee, former employee, or applicant for employment” reasonably believes shows one or more of the following: Violation of any law, rule, or regulation, Gross waste of funds, Substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, Gross mismanagement, or Abuse of authority. This means that complaining about your boss’s curt comment or your coworker’s annoying personal habits will probably not rise to the level of “protected disclosure.”  However, these terms use broad wording intentionally to encompass a wide variety of other inappropriate behaviors.  When crafting these laws, Congress sought to give federal employees the benefit of the doubt in a whistleblower action. One of the ways they accomplished this goal was by requiring that whistleblowers only “reasonably believe” the information they passed along constituted evidence of misconduct. Put another way, if you disclose alleged misconduct in whistleblower action that turns out not to be prohibited behavior upon further investigation, you still receive whistleblower protection as long you reasonably believed the behavior was inappropriate.  Whistleblower Protections Federal law protects whistleblowers from any and all retaliatory “personnel actions.” But what is a personnel action? Federal law defines that phrase to include the following: A position appointment, A promotion, A detail, transfer, or reassignment, A restoration, A performance evaluation, A change in pay, A change in benefits, and An award. Orders to undergo psychiatric testing or examination and “any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions” are also personnel actions. That means that if your employer demotes you, changes your duties, rescinds an award, or gives you a bad performance review because of your disclosure, they have broken the law.  How Should I Disclose Wrongdoing? The law does not require whistleblowers to make a protected disclosure to a certain person. On the contrary, whistleblowers have wide latitude on how to make a protected disclosure. For example, they can disclose wrongdoing to their first-line supervisor or second-line supervisor. They can also disclose wrongdoing to their agency’s Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), or even Congress itself. You will receive whistleblower protections as long as you reasonably believe that your whistleblower action reveals misconduct. Can I Choose to Remain Anonymous? It depends. When you make a protected disclosure to the OSC, you can choose to remain anonymous. Furthermore, most agencies’ Inspector General offices have anonymous hotlines that you can use to make a protected disclosure. But the OSC can publicly reveal your identity if they determine it necessary because of imminent danger to public health or safety. Further, if you want to claim whistleblower retaliation, you must generally show that your whistleblowing contributed to the retaliatory action. This may be harder to show if you remain anonymous.  Can Probationary Employees Receive Whistleblower Protections? Yes. Federal employees are considered “probationary employees” for their first year of federal service. As probationers, they enjoy far fewer rights than non-probationary employees. For example, probationary employees cannot appeal adverse actions, including terminations, to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). However, probationary employees can appeal alleged acts of retaliation for whistleblowing to the MSPB. Consult a Lawyer Before You Become a Whistleblower Even though most people applaud whistleblowers, becoming one can change your career forever. Unfortunately, whistleblower retaliation is an all too common sight in the federal workplace. So before you make a protected disclosure, it’s best to reach out for legal advice from an experienced federal employment attorney.  Here at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, our talented legal team can help you file a complaint with the OSC or your employer. We can also verify that your complaint meets the standard of a “protected disclosure” so that you can qualify as a whistleblower. With our decades of experience protecting federal employees, we know what retaliation looks like and how to fight it. So we are prepared to defend you aggressively against retaliation by your employer and protect your rights.  Don’t risk your federal career by going it alone. Reach out online or call us at 833-833-3529 to set up a free initial consultation today.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Retirement

Can You Lose Federal Retirement Benefits for Disciplinary Actions?

Federal employees enjoy many competitive benefits with the government, including a generous retirement package. However, if you are a federal government employee facing possible disciplinary actions, then you may be understandably concerned about your federal retirement benefits. How do disciplinary actions affect your retirement benefits? The good news is that most disciplinary actions do not affect your federal retirement. However, there are a few exceptions. The ultimate answer depends on your specific situation and whether you have committed one or more specific federal crimes. That said, if you or a loved one are facing disciplinary actions, then there are other things at stake besides your retirement benefits. Take action immediately. Consult one of our dedicated federal employment attorneys at the Federal Employment Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. Understanding the Basics of Federal Retirement Benefits Virtually all federal employees are eligible to receive retirement benefits under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). The FERS retirement package consists of three components. The first part is the Thrift Savings Plan, which is essentially a 401k program that the government administers. You can choose to contribute a portion of each paycheck to your TSP account, and your agency will make a matching contribution. Once you reach a certain age, you can draw on your TSP funds. The second retirement component is the FERS Basic Benefits Plan, a defined benefits plan that takes a part of your pay to guarantee you a monthly retirement pension. Social Security benefits make up the third and final portion of the plan. Your final retirement benefits depend on several factors, including your average pay, years of service, and whether you have a disability.  Can My Retirement Benefits Be Interrupted for Disciplinary Action? In most situations, federal employees cannot lose their retirement benefits because of disciplinary actions. Even federal employees who face termination for misconduct or poor performance can usually rest easy. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is a federal agency that allows employees to appeal disciplinary actions that they have received from their employer. The Board also occasionally resolves key questions regarding federal employment law, including issues revolving around federal retirement benefits and disciplinary actions. In Morrison v. Department of the Navy, the Board made clear that federal retirement benefits are “available upon separation from federal service, even when the separation is agency initiated.” Consequently, if you are facing removal from federal service for alleged misconduct, you do not need to resign to “save” your retirement benefits.  How Can Federal Employees Lose Their Retirement Benefits? It is very difficult for federal employees to lose their retirement benefits. 5 U.S.C. § 8312 states that you need to be convicted of committing one or more specific crimes for this to happen. Specifically, there are only about 20 crimes that can cause you to lose your federal retirement benefits, including: Espionage, Sabotage, Treason, Rebellion, Seditious conspiracy against the United States, Advocating the overthrow of the government, Perjury, Subversive activities, Wrongly disclosing classified information, and Fleeing the country to avoid prosecution or conviction. As you can see, all of these crimes are very serious and rarely occur. So as long as you do not receive a conviction for any of these crimes, your retirement benefits will be safe.  What About Federal Employees Outside the Federal Employee Retirement System? FERS covers all employees who began work with the Federal government after 1987. However, Federal employees who began their service before 1987 receive retirement benefits under a different plan, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Although CSRS offers different retirement benefits to eligible federal employees, you cannot lose those benefits because of disciplinary action except for the reasons stated above. Want to Learn More About How to Protect Your Federal Career? It’s reassuring to know that your federal retirement benefits are safe when you are facing disciplinary action. However, disciplinary actions are still very serious. They can leave a black mark on your career and reputation, lower your income, and jeopardize your job prospects. That said, if your employee is proposing disciplinary action against you, you need to consult a federal employment attorney right away.  Here at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we take pride in protecting federal employees. We care deeply about the outstanding men and women who serve the government every day. That means we’re committed to helping them defend their livelihoods and careers. If you are facing disciplinary action, we can work with you to build your case and protect your rights. We can also aggressively negotiate with your employer and take action against them for retaliating or discriminating against you.  Even if you’re not sure you have a case, come see us right away. Don’t wait. Schedule a free initial consultation today by calling 833-833-3529. You can also send us a message online. 

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | FERS Disability

How Do You Know If You Are Eligible for Disability Retirement Benefits?

Many people enjoy being a federal employee because of the benefits it offers. One of these benefits is a generous disability retirement package under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). So if you have suffered an injury on the job, you might be considering applying for federal disability retirement.  But knowing whether you’re eligible for disability retirement benefits is not always straightforward. Read on to learn whether you might be eligible for federal disability retirement benefits. This guide will cover the basic eligibility rules and the benefits you can enjoy. If you want more specific advice for your situation, contact the outstanding team at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. How to Determine Your FERS Disability Retirement Eligibility The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the federal agency responsible for regulating the rules for disability retirement. That means that their rules regarding disability retirement eligibility apply to most federal agencies. OPM states that you need to meet several criteria to be eligible for federal disability retirement benefits.  You must serve in the government for a minimum length of time. You need to have at least 18 months of federal civilian service under your belt to qualify for federal disability retirement.  You must become disabled due to disease or injury. And your disability must make you unable to perform the “critical” or “essential” duties of your position of record.  Your disability must last (or be expected to last) for at least one year. Disabilities that may resolve at some indefinite future time usually meet this standard. Your agency must certify that it cannot accommodate your disabling medical condition in your current position or a similar position. To meet this step, your agency needs to assess whether it could reassign you to a position of a similar grade or pay level. If you cannot be accommodated in a similar position, your agency may move to separate you from federal service.  You must apply for federal disability retirement benefits within one year of separation. Waiting beyond this time can sink your chances of a successful retirement application.  Finally, you need to apply for social security benefits, although there is no requirement to be approved for SSDI. And make sure you do not withdraw your social security application after applying for FERS disability retirement. If you do, OPM will reject your federal disability retirement application.   Federal Disability Retirement – Calculating Your Benefits  Let’s say you meet these requirements and successfully submit your application. What kinds of benefits can you expect to receive? The answer to that depends on several factors. The first one is your age. If you are over 62 years old, your annuity will generally equal one percent of your average salary from the three years you were paid the most (also known as your “high-three” salary) multiplied by your years and months of service. In other words, it’s the same as non-disability retirement for applicants over age 62. We will use an example to show you how this calculation process works. Let’s say your “high-three” salary is $100,000, and you have 10 years of federal government service. One percent of $100,000 is $1,000. And $1,000 times 10 (for your 10 years of service) is $10,000. So you’d receive $10,000 a year in disability benefits. If you are 62 years old and you have more than 20 years of government service, then you receive 1.1% of your “high-three” salary multiplied by your years of service. So if your high-three salary was $100,000 and you worked in the government for 30 years, your annual annuity would be $33,000.  But what if you’re under 62? In that case, you will get 60% of your “high-three” salary minus whatever payments you receive from social security during the first year, and then 40% of your “high-three” salary minus 60% of your SSDI benefits each year thereafter until age 62. Want to Learn More About Your Eligibility for Federal Disability Benefits? As you can see, the world of federal disability retirement is extremely complex. Knowing whether you’re eligible for retirement is just the beginning of obtaining FERS retirement benefits. You also need to fill out your application paperwork carefully, get the correct medical documentation and have a lot of patience. On top of that, federal agencies can wrongly deny your application, putting your future welfare in jeopardy.  If you want help filing your disability retirement application or if your retirement application has been denied, then you might need a federal employment attorney. At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we’re dedicated to helping federal employees make full use of their rights under the law. Mr. Wersing has extensive experience with all kinds of federal employment issues, including disability retirement applications. We can also help you if your employer has rejected your application for retirement. Together, we can help you achieve the benefits you need. Worried about the cost of an attorney? Don’t be. We never want legal fees to discourage you from coming to see us. That’s why we offer all potential clients a free initial consultation. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Give us a call at 833-833-3529 and tell us about your situation. You can also reach out to us online. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Disability

What is the Difference Between Social Security Disability and Federal Disability?

The difference between social security disability insurance (SSDI) and a disability under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) isn’t straightforward. People confuse FERS disability retirement and SSDI all the time. If you think that you or a loved one may qualify for one or both of these programs, you need to understand the nuances of each. Understanding the difference is especially crucial if you are a current federal employee.  This article will review the key characteristics of both FERS disability retirement and social security disability. Contact a capable federal employment attorney today if you have any other questions.  What Are the Differences Between FERS Disability Retirement and Social Security Disability? FERS disability retirement and Social Security disability are very different. Let’s take a look at the significant differences. Difference #1: More Americans Qualify for Social Security Disability  As you might imagine and as the name suggests, FERS disability retirement applies only to federal employees covered by the FERS system. Federal employees covered by the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and private sector employees cannot receive FERS disability retirement, although CSRS employees can receive CSRS disability retirement which is similar to FERS. On the other hand, virtually any adult American with a disability can apply for social security disability benefits. Difference #2: FERS Disability Retirement Focuses on Occupational Injuries Another major difference between the two systems is how they analyze a person’s disability. Congress passed the Social Security Act to provide a general “safety net” for any American worker who became disabled. Thus, SSDI is a “total” disability benefit, which means it assesses an individual’s disability in light of their ability to do any kind of work.  Let’s use an example to clear things up. Say John Smith is a plumber injured at work, resulting in a serious disability. Because of this disability, he can no longer perform the physical aspects of his job as a plumber. However, he could do another kind of work—computer and administrative tasks, for example. In this scenario, John would probably not qualify for SSDI because he can still perform some kind of work. It doesn’t matter whether that work is similar to his original job. By contrast, FERS disability retirement is an “occupational” disability benefit.  In other words, it focuses on how an individual’s disability affects their ability to do their specific occupation. This focus makes it significantly easier to qualify for in comparison to SSDI. To be eligible for FERS retirement, a federal employee just needs to show that they cannot perform the duties of their position of record due to a disability. Although their agency can try to assign them to a different job, any potential reassignment has to have the same grade/pay level, be in the same commuting area, and involve the employee’s qualifications. Let’s pretend that our friend John Smith was a plumber for the federal government when he became disabled. To obtain a FERS disability retirement, he needs to show only that he can’t perform his duties as a plumber and that his agency can’t place him in a similar position. Even if his physical disability allows him to perform administrative tasks, his agency cannot force him into a new position that doesn’t relate to his qualifications.  Difference #3: You Can Receive FERS Disability Retirement Benefits While Working in the Private Sector Because FERS retirement is an “occupational” disability benefit, a federal employee can theoretically work a private sector position while receiving FERS retirement benefits. Yet because an employee has to be “totally” disabled (i.e., they cannot perform any kind of work) to qualify for SSDI, they cannot work and receive that benefit.  Can I Receive Both FERS Retirement Benefits and Social Security Disability Benefits? Yes. However, these benefits will not “stack” on top of each other. Instead, your FERS disability benefits will be reduced by some amount of the amount of Social Security benefits you receive. Depending on how your FERS disability benefits were calculated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), your monthly disability payment could be reduced by 60% or 100% of your SSDI benefits.  Get in Touch With a Federal Employment Lawyer Today We’re a compassionate and caring team of attorneys who strive to empower government employees and protect their interests. We know public servants are dedicated to serving their country and promoting the general welfare. Therefore, we believe our clients should be able to exercise their rights fully, whatever their situation. As soon as you call us, we’ll work to make sure you get the treatment and compensation you deserve. Reach out to us online or call us at 833-833-3529.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

How to File an OSC Complaint Under the Whistleblower Protection Act

Most of us would like to live in a world where whistleblowers are free from retaliation. However, the cold, hard truth is that whistleblowers come under attack all the time because of their efforts to clean up the government.  Congress was well aware of this fact when it passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 1985. Thanks to the WPA, the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has the power to protect whistleblower employees by investigating claims of whistleblower retaliation. That said, filing an OSC complaint isn’t easy.  In this article, we’ll go over how you can file an OSC whistleblower complaint and how to ensure that you’re eligible to file an OSC complaint. We’ll also touch on what you can expect from the OSC complaint process. However, if you have more questions or think that you are the target of whistleblower retaliation because you called out your government employer, contact a qualified federal employment attorney right away.  How Do I Know If I’m Eligible to File an OSC Complaint? To file an OSC complaint, you need to meet four requirements. Verifying that you meet these requirements will ensure that the OSC properly reviews your complaint and does not screen it out.  Requirement #1: Current or Former Employee of the U.S. Government’s Executive Branch The OSC doesn’t protect private sector whistleblowers. It also doesn’t have any jurisdiction over whistleblowing complaints filed by employees of the military, CIA, NSA, or FBI. Requirement #2: Protected Disclosure To qualify as a whistleblower, an employee must make a “protected disclosure.” A federal employee makes a protected disclosure when they blow the whistle on an agency action that they reasonably believe to be: A violation of law, rule, or regulation; A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; Censorship related to research, analysis, or technical information; Gross mismanagement; Gross waste of funds; or An abuse of authority. Simply reporting your boss for being rude or micromanaging your team doesn’t qualify as a protected disclosure. The action or behavior that you report must fit into one of the categories listed above.  Requirement #3: Adverse Action By Agency Obviously, a claim of whistleblower retaliation requires that the employer act against the employee. Retaliation can take on many forms, including: Removal, Reassignment, Change of duties, Demotion, and Denial of leave requests Just threatening to take negative action against an employee also counts as an adverse action.  Requirement #4: The Agency’s Adverse Action Is Connected to Your Protected Disclosure When you submit your OSC complaint, you need to be able to demonstrate that the action your agency took against you was caused by your protected disclosure. You can prove this through emails, letters, video evidence, or even the timing between the two events.  If you meet these four requirements, you’re probably eligible to file an OSC complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act.  How to File an OSC Complaint Under the Whistleblower Protection Act To submit a complaint of whistleblower retaliation, you need to fill out and submit a copy of OSC Form 14. Filling out the form is quite a long process. Be ready to fill in your contact information, whether you’re covered by a collective bargaining agreement, your current employment status, and the specific protected disclosures that you made. Because of the complexity of the form, we recommend that you consult an attorney to ensure that your complaint is submitted successfully.   How Long Does OSC Take to Process a Whistleblower Complaint? There’s no easy answer to this question. The time it takes for OSC to process and investigate your complaint depends on the complexity of your allegations, the amount of evidence you have, and other factors. That being said, you can expect the process to take between120 days and 240 days.   Do You Need Legal Counsel Because You’re the Target of Whistleblower Retaliation? OSC investigates whistleblower complaints as a matter of government policy. However, an OSC examiner is under no obligation to represent your personal interests. That’s why you need an attorney on your side if you’re planning to file an OSC complaint.  The Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC understands the invaluable service that whistleblowers provide to our country. Our goal is to provide outstanding representation to anyone brave enough to call out injustice and wrongdoing in the federal workplace. Once one of our attorneys takes up your case, we’ll go the extra mile to defend your rights against your employer. We’ll also fight to ensure that the OSC takes your complaint seriously and properly investigates your complaint.  Still a little hesitant to contact an attorney? Don’t be. You have nothing to lose because all our initial consultations are free. Don’t wait. Call us today at 833-833-3529 or contact us online.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What Are My Rights as a Federal Employee if I Am Facing Suspension?

No federal employee ever imagines that they’ll face a possible suspension. Not only is it a black mark on your record, but it can also deprive you of pay for days, weeks or even months. And in most situations, a proposed suspension catches you completely off-guard. Employee suspension laws are complex, so you may not know where to turn. However, if you’re facing a suspension, there’s no need to panic or just give in without a fight. As a federal employee, you have rights. Take a moment to learn more about federal employee rights in the workplace. After that, consult an experienced federal employment attorney at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC right away to learn about your options.  A Federal Employee’s Rights in the Workplace A federal employee facing any punishment (including suspension) is protected by several laws that guarantee their right to due process. Depending on the length of the proposed suspension, a federal employee may receive additional rights. Under federal employee suspension laws, there are two kinds of actions a federal agency can take against its employees: disciplinary actions and adverse actions. Disciplinary actions include less serious punishments like: Oral or written counseling, Letters of reprimand, Letters of warning, and Suspensions of 14 days or less. On the other hand, adverse actions refer to more serious punishments, like suspensions of 15 days or longer, demotions, and removals. Because the “stakes” are higher for an employee facing an adverse action, the law grants them additional employee suspension rights to protect their careers.  Rights for Employees Facing Shorter Suspensions If you are facing a suspension of fewer than 14 days, then you have the right to know why the federal agency is taking action against you. In the letter proposing your suspension, the agency needs to include a specific charge (like insubordination, inappropriate conduct, etc.). Next, It must include a detailed description of the circumstances surrounding your alleged wrong behavior, like when and where it happened. Furthermore, you have the right to receive a copy of the evidence that your employer is relying on to propose your suspension.  You have other rights as well, like the right to respond to the proposal letter. To respond, you can choose to submit a written response and/or meet with the deciding official and provide a verbal response. Finally, you have the right to legal representation. Your representative can be a friend, colleague, union representative, or attorney.  Rights for Employees Facing Longer Suspensions Federal law considers suspensions of more than 14 days to be adverse actions. That means that a federal employee facing a 15-day suspension has even more rights than an employee facing a 5-day suspension.  In addition to the rights that we just discussed, federal employees facing longer suspensions have the right to receive advance notice of the suspension. If you are facing a longer suspension, your agency needs to notify you of the proposed suspension at least 30 days before it begins. They must also allow you to work without any interruption before and after the proposed suspension. Your agency must give you a longer period—at least seven days—to respond to the adverse action. Finally, if your agency actually suspends you, you can appeal the suspension to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).  Don’t Wait. Contact an Attorney Right Away As you can see, a federal employee facing suspension has several rights. However, if you are facing a suspension of any length, it’s critical that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. A skilled federal employment attorney can help you craft your response, analyze the government’s evidence, and determine if there were any illegal or discriminatory motivations behind the suspension. They can also help you negotiate with your employer, plead your case before a judge, and even obtain compensation if your rights were violated.   With the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, you can enjoy unparalleled client representation. We delight in standing up for our clients and making sure they receive only the best treatment. Additionally, Mr. Wersing has a tremendous amount of experience protecting federal employees’ rights.  Thanks to his experience and dedication, our clients are more than happy to share their success stories. Employee suspension rights is an area we focus us, so let us help you defend your rights and protect your federal career. Call us at 833-833-3529 to set up a free case review. You can also schedule an appointment online.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

How to Report an Abuse of Authority in the Federal Workplace

We’ve all had bad supervisors in our careers. Yet sometimes the behavior of a supervisor can cross the line into illegal behavior. Abuse of authority is one of several personnel practices that are banned completely from the federal workplace by U.S. law.  Understanding how to distinguish between legal and illegal behavior isn’t necessarily easy, however. Read on to learn more about the abuse of authority in the workplace, including its definition and several examples. If you or a loved one think you are dealing with abuse of authority in the workplace, contact a knowledgeable federal employment attorney today.  Abuse of Authority: Definition Most people understand that it is illegal for a federal employee or supervisor to abuse their authority. But what is “abuse of authority”? The definition of “abuse of authority” is an “arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority that is inconsistent with the mission of the executive agency concerned.” That definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation. As you’ll see below, abuse of authority can take many different forms.  Abuse of Authority: Possible Real-Life Examples   To help give you a better understanding of what abuse of authority can look like, consider these hypothetical examples:  Your supervisor makes fun of or humiliates you or a co-worker in front of your colleagues. A subordinate in the budget office uses their monetary authority to buy themselves office supplies or better computer equipment. Your boss passes you over for promotion and promotes your co-worker instead because they are good friends outside of work. Your colleague uses an official work vehicle to do a few personal errands and get lunch.  A manager repeatedly yells and screams at a contractor for the agency. No matter what form it takes, abuse of authority is a serious problem. It can destroy the culture of an office or workspace, crush employee morale, increase turnover, and lead to fraud and corruption. That means it needs to be reported and resolved immediately.  What Should I Do to Report Abuse of Authority? If you suspect someone in the federal workplace of abuse of authority, you should consider reporting their behavior to a trusted supervisor, human resources specialist, or your agency’s Office of the Inspector General. If you can’t think of anyone that you can trust in your agency, you can also file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC.)  It is only fair to be nervous about blowing the whistle on your boss or colleague. But the good news is that the law protects you against retaliation once you file a complaint or report about an abuse of authority. You should also strongly consider getting legal counsel. Don’t Fight the Battle Alone. Let Us Help You Defend Your Rights While the law protects you against retaliation, it can be overwhelming to file a lawsuit against your federal agency. This is especially true when you have to cope with stress, anxiety, and mental trauma. For that and many other reasons, you should consult an attorney. A qualified attorney will be able to assess your case, help you weigh your options, and maximize your chances of winning your case.  At the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our team of specialists is familiar with virtually every kind of federal workplace issue. Mr. Wersing has represented countless federal employees, and he is dedicated to protecting his clients’ rights. Together, we can help you get your life back on track and hold the abuser of authority accountable. Call us at 833-833-3529 or schedule an appointment online.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | MSPB

What to Expect at an MSPB Hearing

The law grants every federal employee the right to contest major adverse actions, such as suspensions over 14 days, demotions and removals. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is the government agency tasked with providing a venue for federal employees who wish to appeal an adverse action. If you’re appealing an adverse action, your MSPB hearing will often be your best opportunity to argue your side of the case and present evidence in your defense.  Below, we review what you can expect at an MSPB hearing. While this guide can help prepare you, it cannot substitute for years of legal training and experience. Therefore, if you have an upcoming MSPB hearing, you should definitely consider contacting a qualified MSPB hearing lawyer.   What Do I Need to Do Before a Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing? Most Merit Systems Protection Board cases take several months to resolve. The Board’s policy is to adjudicate all appeals within 120 days of receipt, although this standard cannot always be met. Before the hearing, the parties have an opportunity to engage in discovery. This means that you can ask your agency to produce relevant evidence, admit certain facts, and answer certain questions that help your case. You can choose to depose certain individuals, which means you can ask them relevant questions in real-time that they have to answer under oath. The administrative judge (AJ) often also holds a preliminary status conference to discuss the case and clarify any issues from the onset. After the discovery period, the AJ holds a pre-hearing conference with the parties. At this conference, the AJ discusses several key matters with the parties based on their prehearing submissions, including: The MSPB’s hearing procedures, Any pending discovery disputes, How to define the issues of the case, Mutually agreed-upon facts (also called stipulated facts), Potential settlements options, Which witnesses each party wants to speak at the hearing, and  Potential exhibits. These matters can become complicated very quickly. In addition, you can expect a fully qualified and experienced attorney to represent your agency. That’s one of the reasons why you should have an attorney by your side during your MSPB hearing.  These days, a test call (or test Zoom meeting) is sometimes required by the MSPB AJ as a confirmation before the hearing that all parties and witnesses have the technology to participate adequately.  What You Can Expect at an MSPB Hearing  Almost all MSPB hearings begin with a brief technology check. The AJ will then give both parties one last chance to discuss and resolve any pre-hearing matters. Once that step is finished, the AJ directs the agency to call its witnesses. Witnesses participate one at a time. At the beginning of each witness’s testimony, the AJ or court reporter will put them under oath. The AJ then allows the agency’s attorney to conduct their direct examination of the witness. During the direct examination, the agency counsel will ask certain questions of the witness. You (or your attorney) are allowed to object to the questions from agency’s counsel for certain reasons, such as relevancy. After the agency counsel concludes their examination, you have an opportunity to conduct a cross-examination of the witness. This process continues for each one of the agency’s witnesses.  After the last agency witness finishes, the agency will declare that it “rests” its case. At that point, the employee can call their own witnesses. After calling each one of their witnesses, the employee or their representative conducts a direct examination. The agency counsel then has an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Once the employee’s witnesses have all testified, the AJ allows each party to deliver a short closing statement. Sometimes, this closing statement will be required to be in writing. Parties use their closing statements to argue their case and highlight and review key points of testimony that favor their position. Once closing statements conclude, the AJ adjourns the hearing to consider the evidence. You can typically expect a decision from the AJ within several months after the hearing.   Do MSPB Hearings Involve Juries? No. Unlike many state and federal court cases, MSPB hearings do not involve juries. Instead, they include only the MSPB AJ, you (and your counsel), the Agency’s counsel, and a court reporter. The parties can call witnesses to participate. However, those witnesses must immediately leave after the AJ excuses them.  Where Do I Go For My MSPB Hearing? Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the MSPB generally holds hearings on video calling applications like Zoom. Therefore, most employees can participate from the comfort of their own homes, and expenses for attorney travel are greatly minimized.  Let Us Help Represent You During Your MSPB Hearing Now that you have a basic idea of what to expect at a Merit Systems Protection Board hearing, you can probably imagine how complicated they can become. In fact, it can be almost impossible to know when to object to a question or determine what kind of matters you should ask your employer during the discovery process. For that reason, it’s imperative that you have legal representation to maximize your chances of success. Your future deserves nothing but the best.  The team at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC is committed to bringing you stellar representation. We care deeply about protecting your federal career and preserving your legal rights. We’ve zealously defended our clients’ interests at countless MSPB hearings over the years. Let us give you the representation you deserve. Don’t wait. Call us at 833-833-3529 or get in touch with us online.

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | Workplace Discrimination

What to Do If You Were Wrongfully Demoted

Getting demoted at work can be a crushing blow to your career. However, it’s especially devastating and unjust when you know you were wrongfully demoted. Maybe your boss decided to demote you because of your skin color or gender. Or perhaps your boss demoted you because you made a complaint about a legal or ethical violation in your workplace. Regardless of the reason, it’s essential that you preserve your rights immediately and defend yourself against your employer’s actions.  To get in touch with an experienced federal employment attorney, contact the team at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC for immediate assistance. What Does Wrongfully Demoted Mean? When a person says they have been demoted, they mean that they’ve been reduced to a lower rank or less senior position. For example, a federal supervisor may demote their subordinate from a GS-13 job to a GS-12 position. Sometimes, demotions are implemented as a form of discipline, to hold an employee accountable for alleged misconduct or poor performance.  Other times, employees receive a demotion because of illegal, discriminatory reasons. It’s important to understand that federal discrimination laws prohibit any adverse actions, including demotions, for illegal and discriminatory reasons. More specifically, you cannot receive a demotion because of your: Age, Race, Color, National origin, Sexual orientation, Religious beliefs, Medical disability, or Prior protected activity (like filing a complaint) If you think you are being demoted at work because of one of these discriminatory reasons, you need to act quickly. You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You may also have the right to appeal your demotion with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). These avenues are very different, and it is important to speak to an attorney familiar with the unique rights of employees of the federal government. Whatever appeal path you take, it’s essential that you act in a timely manner. Although the law grants you the right to hold your employer accountable for discrimination, you cannot wait very long. Otherwise, your complaint will be untimely, and a judge will likely toss it out.  Want to Learn More About Your Options After Being Wrongfully Demoted at Work? Now that you know what being wrongfully demoted means, you’re probably wondering what to do next. You also know why wrongful demotions can happen and what agencies you can file a complaint or appeal with, but you’re probably unsure of how to actually start the process. Knowing that you’ve been wrongfully demoted is just the beginning of your journey for justice.  At the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our attorneys will do everything possible to protect your rights. When you walk through our doors, we know you’re hurting and need some help. We want to sit down with you to hear your story. But then we will use our knowledge and experience to apply the law to your case. We’ll show you your options. Whatever you decide, we promise to aggressively pursue justice for you. On top of that, we will provide you with outstanding customer service. To us, you’re not a number. You’re a human being with a valuable story and inherent rights. Together, we can help you gain the compensation you deserve for your wrongful demotion.  Because we are passionate about defending the rights of federal employees, our federal employment lawyers offer all potential clients a free initial consultation. You have nothing to lose by calling us today at (866) 891-0578 and sharing your story with us. You can also contact us online. Don’t wait another second. Let’s get underway today. 

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | FERS Disability

FERS Disability Retirement and Severance Pay: What to Know

The federal government grants severance pay to employees who separate involuntarily from the federal service. Not all employees can receive severance pay, however. To qualify, an employee first has to meet several prerequisites. You should also know that severance pay plays an important role for those who are in the process of obtaining a federal disability retirement. We cover the basics here, but we recommend that you reach out to a knowledgeable federal employment attorney to learn more.   What Is Severance Pay? Just like in the private sector, severance pay is compensation given to employees who are involuntarily separated from federal service. “Involuntary separation” includes several key scenarios, including: Separation for a medical inability to perform one’s duties;  Reductions in Force (RIF) or downsizing; A transfer of the position’s function outside of the employee’s commuting area;  Expiration of incumbent’s term of office; and A lack of funds to pay the employee. Am I Eligible For Severance Pay? You may be eligible for severance pay if you are involuntarily separated from the federal service as defined above. However, you need to meet a couple of additional basic conditions. First, you need a career or career-conditional appointment in the competitive or excepted services. Appointments in the Senior Executive Service and some time-limited appointments also qualify, but presidential and emergency appointments do not. Second, you need to have completed at least 12 months of continuous service in the federal government by the date of separation. Finally, you cannot have accepted another position with the federal government and receive severance pay.  How Much Severance Pay Can I Get? Naturally, the amount of severance pay varies from one employee to another. The amount of severance pay that you can receive depends primarily on your years of service in the federal government. You can get one week of severance pay (calculated at your final basic pay rate) for each of your first 10 years of service. Every additional year of service grants you an additional two weeks of severance pay. There is also an age adjustment that boosts the amount of severance pay for employees over 40. For every three months of age beyond age forty, you can add an additional 2.5% to your basic severance pay rate.  When calculating your years of service, you can generally include any time you spent in the national guard or the Armed Forces. Former United States Postal Service (USPS) workers can include their time with that agency as well.  How Does Severance Pay Affect My FERS Disability Retirement? Many employees applying for federal disability retirement look to severance pay as a way to boost their financial picture when exiting government service. However, under current guidance, you cannot receive severance pay if you are “eligible . . . for an immediate annuity from a Federal retirement system.” This means that if you receive an involuntary separation while applying for federal disability retirement, you’ll likely have to return any severance pay you receive. Have More Questions About Severance Pay?  Severance pay is a tricky topic, especially when you have a pending federal disability retirement application. It can be stressful to think about how you’re going to pay for retirement or your next period of unemployment. You shouldn’t have to deal with this issue on your own. Our attorneys at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, are totally committed to helping you secure your financial future. At your free initial consultation, we can discuss the details of your situation and advise you on your best course of action. Call us at (866) 891-0578 or contact us online to set up your free consultation. 

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