| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

How Long Does FERS Disability Retirement Last?

If you are currently on the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) disability retirement, you probably have a mix of relief and concern. You might be relieved because of the assistance that payments provide for your life. But you might be concerned because you are unsure how long your retirement will last. In general, many employees on FERS disability retirement can expect their retirement to last until age 62. However, there is no simple answer to the question of how long it will last. It depends on your age, health, situation, and disciplinary history. We’ll cover some of the basics here so that you have a general idea of what to expect. But if you have more questions about how the law applies to your specific case, contact an outstanding federal employment attorney today.  How Long Will My FERS Disability Retirement Last? Most federal employees are eligible to remain on FERS disability retirement from the date they receive approval until the day they turn 62. At that point, your retirement will convert automatically from disability to typical federal retirement. That said, you are subject to occasional “check-ups” while on FERS disability. What Factors Can Affect Whether I Continue to Receive FERS Disability Retirement? Age is the biggest factor when it comes to your benefits. As we mentioned before, when you turn 62, you will no longer receive disability retirement. Another factor that comes into play is your health. While many federal employees have disabling conditions that are also permanent, other employees can recover over time. If you recover sufficiently from your condition, you may lose out on your benefits after undoing a periodic review. A third variable that affects your retirement is your current earnings. According to federal law, you can receive retirement benefits only if you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from achieving your “earning capacity.” However, if you subsequently receive wages (either from another employer or from self-employment) that equates to more than 80% of the pay you received as a federal employee, you will be deemed as having achieved your earning capacity. That means your benefits will stop.  Finally, your participation in other benefit programs can affect your benefits. For instance, if you decide to receive benefits from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), then you can no longer continue to collect retirement payments.  Understanding Periodic Reviews by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) After you begin your FERS disability retirement, you can expect to receive periodic reviews from OPM. For some, these reviews will come once or twice a year. Other employees on benefits may receive reviews more or less often. In any event, these reviews are critical for your continued benefits.  During these reviews, OPM will send the retiree a short form to fill out. The form will inquire about the former employee’s current work activities. It will also request updated medical records for OPM to review. Having the right attorney on your side during this process can make all the difference for your disability retirement.  For many retirees with permanent conditions, their updated medical records will support a finding that will allow them to remain on benefits. But depending on your medical status and the answers to the OPM review form, the agency may decide that you are healthy enough to work and terminate future payments. This kind of sudden monetary change can turn your life upside down. The Consequences of Losing FERS Disability Retirement Losing your FERS benefits has many consequences. As any FERS retiree can tell you, one of the major benefits of FERS disability retirement is the free health and life insurance coverage that comes with it. You may also lose your health and life insurance if you lose your retirement benefits.  Other Benefits of Remaining on FERS Disability Retirement It’s also worth mentioning that while you are on FERS disability retirement, you will still accrue creditable service years. This will benefit you when your federal retirement kicks in at age 62. The calculation for your federal retirement is one percent of your highest salary over a three-year period multiplied by your years of creditable service. For instance, if your highest average salary over a three-year period was $100,000 and you have only 10 years of service, your retirement will be $10,000. But if you served 18 years in the government, your annual retirement benefit would equal $18,000. This means that it should be your top priority to maintain your disability retirement as long as you have a disabling medical condition.  What Should I Do If I Lose My Disability Retirement? Not all is lost if OPM has decided that you have recovered from your condition and withdrawn your benefits. If your disability recurs and you do not earn more than 80% of your former salary, you may be able to have your benefits reinstated. Want to Learn More About Protecting Your FERS Disability Retirement? Losing your benefits can be absolutely devastating. Therefore, if you are worried that OPM may decide to terminate your disability retirement, you need to consult a federal employment attorney right away. The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing is dedicated to helping you exercise your legal rights. Contact us today by calling 833-833-3529. You can also reach out to us online. 

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Title 38 and Hybrid Title 38 Employee Overview

Title 5 of the United States Code covers virtually all federal government employees. However, a few employees fall under Title 38 of the U.S. Code. Title 38 and hybrid Title 38 employees receive unique rights in the federal government. Both categories of employees work in the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and have different working conditions and pay scales. Title 38 employees work in various medical professions, while hybrid title 38 employees occupy medical and scientific roles.  Here, we’ll review the rights and working conditions of Title 38 employees and hybrid Title 38 employees. We will also touch on the process for appealing disciplinary action. For more specific questions relating to Title 38 and hybrid Title 38 employees, call a title 38 lawyer today.  Title 38 Employees: Characteristics and Examples  Title 5 defines all the main characteristics of federal employees. It controls things like working hours, overtime provisions, and pay scales. Because Title 38 employees obviously aren’t covered by Title 5, their working conditions are significantly different. Whereas Title 5 employees work during regular business hours, many Title 38 employees regularly work weekends or are on call 24/7. Title 5 employees receive pay under either the General Schedule (GS) or Executive Schedule (ES) pay systems, while Title 38 employees have several different pay scales that allow for significantly higher salaries. For instance, GS employees have a pay cap equal to the Executive Schedule level IV, which was $176,300 in 2022. In contrast, Title 38 physicians can make up to $385,000. However, Title 38 employees do not receive the same benefits as Title 5 employees when it comes to disciplinary matters. While Title 38 employees can file Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints, they cannot appeal disciplinary actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). This means that employers like the VA have significantly greater discretion when it comes to disciplining their employees. Finally, Title 38 employees must serve a two-year probationary period. Title 5 employees need only serve a one-year probationary period.  How Do I Know If I Am a Title 38 Employee? Not all VA and NIH employees fall under Title 38. The best way to determine if you are a Title 38 employee is by assessing your profession. The following professions are covered by Title 38: This is not an exhaustive list. If you have specific questions about whether your profession falls under Title 38, contact a competent Title 38 attorney today. How is a Hybrid Title 38 Employee Different from a Title 38 Employee? Some professions within the VA and NIH have employees that do not fall under one title of the U.S. Code. Instead, these professions split their employees between Title 5 and Title 38. These professions are called “mixed” or hybrid Title 38 employee professions. Hybrid Title 38 professions include: Again, this is not an exhaustive list. That said, if you work for the VA or NIH in one of these fields, you might be a Title 38 or Title 5 employee. The best way to know which title governs your position is by consulting your agency’s human resources department or by contacting a federal employment attorney.  What Rights Do Title 38 Employees Have? Regardless of whether they are in “pure” Title 38 professions or “hybrid” Title 38 professions, employees under Title 38 enjoy the same rights. While Title 38 employees cannot appeal disciplinary actions to the MSPB, they receive protections from the following laws:   Title 38 employees may also dispute disciplinary actions in Administrative Investigation Boards (AIBs). During these hearings, they may be represented.  Want to Learn More About Title 38 and Hybrid Title 38 Employees?  Do you have more questions about your rights as a Title 38 employee? Are you looking for quality legal representation to help you defend your career in AIB? Whatever your situation, we can help. The lawyers at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, have many years of experience with both Title 5 and Title 38 employees. We have helped countless civil servants protect their careers, hold bad actors accountable, and obtain the benefits they deserve. Also, we’ve practiced in every kind of federal forum, including AIBs, the MSPB, the EEOC, and federal district court. We are passionate about defending your rights and hope to provide you with outstanding customer service.  Still unsure about whether you need to hire an attorney? Don’t worry. You can contact us at 1-866-612-5956 or reach out online to get started. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Are Federal Employees At-Will Employees?

Are federal employees at-will employees? The simple answer to this question is “no.” Every federal employee receives due process rights and may be fired only for cause. However, there are periodic efforts within Congress to make all federal employees at-will employees, so it’s worth discussing the concept of at-will employment. We’ll also review the basics of federal employment and the rights that virtually all federal employees have.  If you are a federal employee or are applying for a federal position, contact us to learn more about federal employment. We can help answer any questions about your rights as a federal employee.  What Are At-Will Employees? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at-will employment “means that an employer can terminate an employee ‌for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.” Employers cannot fire at-will employees for discriminatory reasons, like the employee’s race, sex, or religion. However, the employer can use just about any other reason to fire the employee. Technically, the employer need not have any reason at all for firing an at-will employee.  Understanding the Basic Rights of Federal Employment Fortunately, federal employees have extensive protections against arbitrary terminations. The vast majority of federal workers have a right to due process. Specifically, federal employees have to receive the following rights when they face discipline: Employees receive more rights if their employer proposes a suspension greater than 14 days, a demotion, or a removal. In those situations, federal employees need to have at least 30 days advance notice and the right to appeal the decision. Employees may appeal major disciplinary actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency designed to “promote an effective Federal workforce.” An MSPB appeal guarantees the employee the opportunity to argue their case before a federal administrative judge. Employees may also present favorable evidence, call supporting witnesses, and cross-examine agency witnesses. Why Are Federal Employees Not At-Will? The answer to this lies in the history of our country. The founding fathers understood it was vital to have an independent federal workforce. Otherwise, federal employees could be hired and fired for purely political reasons. There were several times in American history when civil servants were hired and fired for their political views. In the late 1800s, ordinary citizens frequently expected to get federal jobs by working for a presidential candidate.  The problems of this “spoils system” soon became obvious. In 1881, President Garfield was killed by a disgruntled supporter named Charles Guiteau. Guiteau had demanded a job at the American embassy in Paris for making a speech for President Garfield during his campaign for president. When he failed to receive a position, he decided to take matters into his own hands. The shocking assassination prompted Garfield’s successor to sign the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1883. The CSRA helped create an independent civil service by requiring federal agencies to fire employees only for cause.  How Can Federal Employees Be Fired?  Unlike at-will employees, a federal agency may fire a federal employee only for certain reasons. Common reasons for termination include: These are only a few examples. However, agencies can fire federal employees for only specific kinds of misconduct or poor performance. Arbitrary reasons, even if they are not discriminatory, do not suffice.  We Can Help Answer Your Federal Employment Questions Now that you understand the basics of federal employment, you might have other questions about working for the federal government. Whatever your question or concern, we are happy to answer it. In addition, we can represent you if your rights as a federal employee are under attack by your agency. Today, it is easier than ever to find a federal employment attorney. However, it’s critical to pick the right attorney. To protect your federal employment rights, you need a federal employment attorney with many years of experience and a track record of success.  Here at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our federal employment attorneys have several decades of collective experience representing federal employees. We’ve helped our clients with every aspect of federal employment, including MSPB hearings, disability retirement, and whistleblower retaliation. Whatever federal employment legal needs you have, we can help you solve them. To move forward, simply contact us today at 1-866-612-5956. You can also contact us online.

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Examples of Hostile Work Environment

Working for the federal government can be demanding and challenging, but it should not be discriminatory or hostile. If you are a federal employee who is suffering in a hostile work environment, take comfort in knowing that you have several legal protections against workplace misconduct. You can also have a strong and effective advocate from the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing. Our experienced federal employment attorneys are dedicated to helping federal employees navigate the complex legal systems that grant compensation and relief for workplace disputes.  What Is a Hostile Work Environment?  Not every uncomfortable workplace is illegally hostile. An unlawfully hostile work environment is the result of workplace discrimination defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). To hold your employer liable for fostering or condoning a hostile work environment, you must clear several legal hurdles. These hurdles include proving the presence of unwanted behavior that is discriminatory and severe or pervasive. A Hostile Work Environment Is Unwelcome The crux of maintaining a successful hostile work environment case is proving that the harassing behavior you endured was unwanted. When you are confronted with harassment, you should immediately tell your harasser to stop or complain to a supervisor or human resources about the conduct.   A Hostile Work Environment Is Discriminatory You must prove that whatever hostile behavior you endured was discrimination that targeted a protected characteristic. The Title VII protected characteristics are:  Among the many forms of discrimination, sexual harassment is a topic of concern that comes up often in this country, and it is a broader form of misconduct than the media portrays. Please remember that sexual harassment does not have to be motivated by sexual desire to be illegal. Sexual harassment just has to be based on someone’s sex or gender.  A Hostile Work Environment Consists of Extreme or Persistent Actions What kinds of actions create hostile workplaces? The possibilities are endless. Someone in your workplace can commit this type of harassment through: A coworker, supervisor, or nonemployee in your office might make a passing joke or statement about someone’s protected characteristic, but not every incident like this rises to the level of unlawful discrimination. To claim that harassment at your job created a hostile environment, you must prove that the harassment was extreme or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would call your workplace abusive.  Extreme discriminatory actions If there was only one instance of discriminatory harassment in your workplace, you must show the legal authorities that the one instance was extreme enough to be abusive on its own. Examples of this type of extreme behavior can include touching without permission and the use of offensive slurs.  Pervasive discrimination If a single occurrence of discrimination isn’t extreme, you need to show the authorities that there was a pattern of discrimination in your workplace. That pattern might be daily jokes about race or sex or the exclusion of members from one protected class whenever there is a social work function.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII, and it looks at the entire record when concluding whether harassment created a hostile environment. When you sense harassment, collect as much evidence as you can, and your attorney can show the courts and authorities why the behavior at your workplace was unlawful.  What Is an Example of a Hostile Work Environment?  We know it can be difficult to speak out against mistreatment in your workplace. But sometimes, taking a stand is easier when you have examples of a hostile work environment to remind you of what you don’t have to endure. Let’s take a look at the two scenarios below.  Example Number One Pervasive harassment that creates hostility can come from insults or perceived “compliments” about someone’s protected characteristics. For instance, imagine you are a member of a racial group that is stereotyped as being gifted in math. Balancing the budget is one of your many job functions, as well as data analysis and copy editing. During several work meetings, coworkers who have the same job as you joke that they should just give you all the budget work because “your people are good at that.” Your coworkers also consistently forward you work assignment emails regarding their budget projects and include joking messages that say, “I know you want to handle this—you have the genes for it.”  Even if your coworkers think they are somehow attributing good qualities to you, this type of behavior can quickly make an individual feel targeted and unsafe in their work environment. If someone constantly makes comments (bad or “good”) about characteristics they associate with one of your protected characteristics, they are likely creating a hostile work environment.  Example Number Two Workplace hostility can also come from non-verbal conduct. Activities like making offensive gestures, regularly entering a coworker’s personal space, following a coworker around, or touching a coworker without permission can be forms of unlawful harassment.  If, for example, you repeatedly have to tell a colleague not to stand only an inch behind you and other employees of the same sex while you are making copies, you could have a right to file a sexual harassment claim. Your claim could be valid regardless of whether your harasser was of the opposite sex or motivated by desire.  There are myriad ways your workplace can become hostile. If there is any hint of discrimination in your office or at your worksite, speak to an attorney immediately about how to respond.  Employer Liability Employers are liable for hostile working environments when the following conditions are present:  Do all that you reasonably can to follow your employer’s harassment complaint procedures and submit a written harassment report to your employer. If your employer’s point of contact for your complaint is your harasser, submit a written complaint to a trusted supervisor or human resources. And if the circumstances of the harassment make filing a complaint with management futile, speak to an attorney as soon as possible about your options.  Taking Legal...

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Does FMLA Apply to Federal Employees?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a landmark piece of legislation that gives employees with serious health conditions a sizable amount of leave to take care of themselves. Employees can also receive leave to care for a family member with a medical condition. It is an important right for American workers, but few people have heard about FMLA. In fact, one common question we receive is whether federal employees can take advantage of FMLA. Simply put, the answer is yes. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), FMLA applies to all public agencies, including local, State, and Federal employers.  Read on to learn more about how FMLA works for federal employees. We will run over FMLA’s basic history and take a look at its key provisions. If you have more questions about FMLA for federal employees, call or contact us online.  A Brief Overview of FMLA FMLA gives employees up to twelve weeks of leave to deal with a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. While the leave is unpaid, FMLA guarantees that the employee can keep their job. To receive FMLA leave, an employee must complete a preliminary application form and attach supporting medical evidence.  Although 12 weeks is the maximum amount of leave an employee can receive, not all applications receive that amount. To receive a full 12 weeks of leave, three requirements need to be met. First, you must not have taken any FMLA leave within the past year. Second, you must currently be working a full-time position (40 hours or more per week). Third, you need to have worked at least 1,250 hours at your employer over the previous 12 months. Finally, your request for 12 weeks of leave must be supported by medical documentation. In addition to caring for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition, federal employees may also use FMLA:  In these situations, the FMLA leave must conclude within 12 months of the birth or placement of the child.  What Qualifies As a Serious Health Condition? Many different situations can constitute a “serious health condition.” Examples include any medical conditions that: Pregnancy and organ donation can also be grounds for applying for FMLA leave. So can mental disorders, provided they meet the criteria mentioned above.  FMLA to Care for Covered Service Members FMLA has an additional provision for individuals who need to care for loved ones who are service members with a serious injury or illness. If a federal employee’s FMLA request meets this requirement, they can receive up to 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period rather than 12 weeks. However, the leave will still be unpaid.  Using FMLA Leave and FMLA Leave Protections Employees can use FMLA leave in a variety of ways. FMLA leave can be used in one 12-week block, in several smaller weekly blocks, or sporadically throughout the year. In some situations, employees can operate on a reduced leave schedule, which means they use their FMLA leave to work slightly fewer hours over a longer period of time. While an employee is on FMLA leave, their job is protected. An employer cannot retaliate against the employee for using FMLA. Nor can the employer terminate or downgrade the employee. The law requires employers to return the employee to the same job or one that is nearly identical to the prior job. To qualify as a “nearly identical” job, the new job must: The “nearly identical” job must also offer identical employee benefits, such as health insurance, disability insurance, vacation time, sick leave, and retirement benefits.  If You Want to Know Whether FMLA Is an Option for You, Give Us a Call Today Now that you know that FMLA is an option for federal employees, you might be wondering whether your personal situation qualifies you for FMLA leave. If that’s the case, don’t leave your future to guesswork. Get legal representation right away by contacting an experienced federal employment lawyer. At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we are not generalists who also happen to take on federal employment cases. Instead, our entire practice is concentrated on helping civil servants with all kinds of federal employment issues. We have experience with all kinds of situations. We can give you the advice you need and help you assess your legal options. At every step of the way, you can expect wonderful customer service, making the legal process as painless as possible.  Don’t leave your future up to chance. Call us today or contact us online.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Are Title 38 Veterans Affairs Employees Considered Federal Employees?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is an agency of the federal government. This means that all veterans affairs employees are, strictly speaking, employees of the federal government.  However, unlike employees in other departments, such as the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy, many VA employees fall under two unique personnel systems that distinguish them from other federal employees. These systems are referred to as “Title 38” and “Hybrid Title 38.” VA employees under these federal code titles lack most of the benefits and privileges that most other federal employees enjoy but do have other rights unique to them. These differences can have a tremendous impact on your work schedule, pay, leave amount, and appeal rights.  Are VA Employees Federal Employees? Yes and no. VA employees are federal employees in the sense that they work for the federal government. Virtually all employees of the federal government are covered by Title 5 of the United States Code, as are many VA employees. Title 5 defines all the distinctive benefits of federal employment, including the General Schedule (GS) and Executive Schedule (ES) pay scales, working conditions, and holidays. Although some VA employees, generally those in medical positions, work for a federal agency, many of them do not work in Title 5 positions. Instead, the VA has its own unique hiring system for medical professionals called Title 38. To give you a better sense of how this applies, it makes sense to run over the differences between Title 38 and Title 5. Title 38 vs. Title 5: Similarities and Differences  Under Title 38, all employees must serve a two-year probationary period. Title 5 employees, on the other hand, need to serve only a one-year probationary period at the VA. Title 38 employees also possess a distinctive pay schedule compared to Title 5 employees. Unlike Title 5 employees, different Title 38 professions receive different pay ranges. The basic pay of some Title 38 employees (like nurses and chiropractors) is roughly comparable to their GS colleagues. But Title 38 physicians and dentists can earn far more than their Title 5 peers. For instance, a VA staff physician can earn up to $243,000, whereas Title 5 employees can earn no more than 176,300 under 2022 pay limits. That fact aside, both Title 38 and Title 5 receive locality pay to compensate them for the different standards of living that exist across the country.  One significant difference between Title 38 and Title 5 employees is their respective work schedules. Almost all Title 5 employees work a normal 40-hour workweek. And like private sector counterparts, Title 5 employees work between roughly 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday. But many Title 38 employees— like dentists, physicians, optometrists, and chiropractors—need to be available 24/7. Both Title 38 and Title 5 positions can be full-time, part-time, intermittent, and temporary. Finally, Title 38 employees generally do not have the right to appeal an adverse employment action to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) like Title 5 employees. They do, however, have appeal rights through a hearing before the Disciplinary Appeals Board (DAB).  Do All VA Positions Under Title 38? Not at all. Title 38 primarily applies to professional medical positions in the VA, including registered nurses (RNs), physician assistants (PAs), and optometrists. To receive an appointment, Title 38 applicants must first have their qualifications reviewed by their peers via a Professional Standards Board (PSB). Assuming the PSB finds the applicant has the necessary qualifications for the role, a designated management official approves the appointment.  On the other hand, Title 5 covers almost all VA employees in nonmedical occupations. These Examples include program analysts, human resources specialists, police officers, and attorneys.  Hybrid Title 38 Employees To make things even more complicated, some VA employees fall under Title 38 for some purposes and under Title 5 for other aspects of employment. The VA refers to these employees as “Hybrid Title 38” employees. Hybrid Title 38 occupations include: Hybrid Title 38 employees fall under Title 38 for matters like appointment, promotion, and some pay matters. Yet they are categorized under Title 5 when it comes to things like performance appraisals, leave, work schedule, and retirement benefits. And like Title 5 employees, hybrid employees serve one-year probationary periods. If you want to learn more about hybrid employees, it’s best to contact a qualified federal employment or veterans affairs attorney.  Who Do Department of Veteran Affairs Employees Report to? Whether they fall under Title 5 or Title 38, VA employees report to their designated supervisors. But as mentioned before, employees who are Title 5 can expect to see more involvement from their peers when they join the VA or apply for a promotion.   Do You Want to Know More About Your Rights as a Title 5 or Title 38 Veterans Affairs Employee? Give Us a Call Today.  Regardless of whether you are a Title 5, Title 38 or Hybrid Title 38 employee, you have rights. And those rights deserve to be defended. If you think your agency has violated your rights, you need to contact an experienced attorney right away. However, it is vital you search for an attorney that specializes in federal employment and VA matters. You should also look for an attorney with a track record of success and positive client reviews.  Our capable federal employment attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC have all those qualities. We have decades of collective experience representing federal employees and defending their rights. Regardless of your situation, personnel system, or occupation, we believe that you deserve outstanding legal representation. Our firm has obtained amazing results for our clients, and they are more than happy to discuss the differences we’ve made in their lives. Don’t wait another moment. Pick up the phone today and call us at 866-612-5956. You can also reach out online to set up an appointment.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What Is the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998

Congress passed the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) in 1998 to reward veterans for their service in the armed forces. Specifically, VEOA grants veterans a hiring preference, making it easier for them to get jobs in the civilian service. It provides certain retention benefits as well. VEOA also gives veterans who are federal employees or applicants for federal positions the right to challenge a violation of their rights. VEOA applies to virtually all agencies and positions within the federal government, but most people know little about it. If you are a veteran currently working for the federal government or applying for a federal position, understanding veterans’ preference and your legal rights as a veteran is vital.   VEOA: Understanding the Basics To understand veterans’ preference under VEOA, it is best to review how government hiring works. There are several services within the federal government: the Competitive Service (CS), the Excepted Service (ES), and the Senior Executive Service (SES). Each service has its own process for reviewing and appointing employment candidates. The CS includes most civil service positions in the executive branch of the federal government. For CS positions, individuals must undergo a multi-layered competitive examination process. Generally, the CS hiring process includes a written test, an evaluation of the individual’s education and experience, and an interview. The ES refers to several positions that do not use the same competitive process as CS positions. Examples include government attorneys and certain other professional roles. Finally, there is the SES, which encompasses high-ranking members of government who typically serve in leadership roles.  VEOA gives veterans’ preference for all CS and ES positions, as well as most SES positions. Veterans’ preference is expressed as a 0 to 10 point addition to any passing examination score or employment rating. Veterans’ preference does not apply to promotions, reassignments, or transfers. Many people often confuse the VEOA with the Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA), but the two have significant differences.  Who Qualifies for Veterans’ Preference Under VEOA? Any person with an honorable discharge or general discharge from one of the branches of the armed forces can receive veterans’ preference. Covered branches include the Army, Navy, Space Force, Air Force Force, Marine Corp, and Coast Guard. In most cases, a person must have served at least 24 months before they are eligible to receive veterans’ preference.  Most retirees below the rank of O-4 (Major/Lieutenant Commander) can receive veterans’ preference. Those who retired at the rank of O-4 or higher do not receive preference unless they have a disability. Although veterans’ preference was originally aimed at those who had served in an active war, it now applies to potentially anyone who served in the armed forces. The Point System Under VEOA There are three levels of veterans’ preference under VEOA: zero-point, five-point, and ten-point. The zero-point preference is reserved for someone who receives a “sole survivorship discharge.” A sole survivorship discharge is when a military member asks to leave the military because they are the only surviving child of their family.  Any non-disabled veteran who served honorably can receive a five-point preference. The highest level of veterans’ preference applies to any veteran (or family member) who has a service-connected disability or a purple heart.  VEOA vs. VRA It is easy to confuse VEOA with VRA, but the two operate in different ways. The VEOA grants veterans a small preference in hiring matters. By contrast, the VRA is a special hiring authority that grants agencies the ability to appoint veterans without any kind of competitive process. In other words, the applicant can get the job without needing to take any test or attend any interview.  Just like the VEOA, there are a few requirements a person must meet to be eligible for a VRA position. First, the candidate must meet all basic qualification requirements for the position. Second, the candidate must be: Unlike the VEOA, there is no service requirement. And the VRA applies only to some ES positions. It does not apply to CS or SES positions. Lastly, the VRA position must be at the GS-11 level or lower.  Want to Learn More About Veterans’ Preference? Contact a Skilled Federal Employment Attorney Today It’s only fair to recognize veterans for their sacrifice and service to the country. Yet understanding how the VRA and VEOA apply to federal positions is complicated. While you may understand the basics of VRA and VEOA, it is more difficult to evaluate whether your employment application was treated fairly. Hiring managers can easily misapply veterans’ preference or even consciously ignore it. When that happens, you have rights under the law.  Here at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our team is passionate about defending the rights of veterans. We want all veterans to have a fair chance at federal employment, and we have years of experience protecting veterans in multiple legal forums. On top of that, we have a proven track record of success and a stellar reputation amongst our clients.  Even if you aren’t sure you have a case, contact us. Don’t miss your opportunity to get your federal dream job. Give us a call at 866-612-5956 or get in touch with us online. 

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Absence Without Leave (AWOL)

AWOL, an acronym meaning “absence without official leave,” is a non-pay status that is used for absences that are not approved by management. It is also a common charge of discipline within the federal government. Note though that AWOL is not in and of itself discipline, although it may lead to discipline. A charge of AWOL can result in a reprimand, suspension, or even removal from the federal service. Being charged with AWOL is a serious matter. But it need not be the end of your career. If your agency has charged you with AWOL, it’s imperative you find a qualified federal employment law to help represent you and defend your rights, especially if disciplinary action is proposed or imposed.  What Does AWOL Mean? Again, AWOL means “absence without leave” or “absent without official leave.” As with any other job, showing up for work on time is an essential requirement for federal employment. There is no minimum time requirement for AWOL. Although more accommodating managers may cut an employee slack for ten or fifteen minutes late, even a five-minute absence can lead to a charge of AWOL. Several other situations can lead to a charge of AWOL: What Are the Elements of an AWOL Charge? If a federal agency wants to use AWOL as a basis for discipline, it must prove two key points of AWOL charge. #1: The federal employee was absent from work As we mentioned earlier, there are a variety of circumstances that can lead to an employee being absent. Consequently, it is often relatively easy for an employer to prove this part of the charge. But you can contest this point by providing evidence that you were at your place of work during the time period in dispute.  #2: The federal employee’s absence was not authorized Federal managers have the right to deny personal leave requests for legitimate reasons. However, they cannot refuse your leave for discriminatory reasons or for retaliatory reasons. Supervisors can also revoke their authorization of a leave request, but it also must be for appropriate reasons. It is not unheard of for retaliatory managers to grant an employee leave, revoke it at the last minute, and then try to charge an employee AWOL. If you think your leave was revoked because you made a complaint, you may be eligible for compensation. A qualified employment attorney can help you demonstrate the connection between your protected activity and any retaliatory activity (including the cancellation of leave).  What Is the Standard of Proof in an AWOL Case? The phrase “standard of proof” refers to the level of evidence the government needs to have to succeed in its case against the federal employee. There are four standards of proof: The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof is the most stringent standard and is not used in administrative charges like this. The “substantial evidence” standard is the easiest standard for a party to meet. For most disciplinary actions against federal employees, the “preponderance of the evidence standard” applies. To meet a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, the government provides enough evidence to show the judge that there is a greater than 50% chance that the alleged misconduct—a period of AWOL, for example—actually occurred.  Defenses to AWOL Charges There are a few common defenses employees can assert to AWOL charges. First, the employee can allege that the government’s charge is based on some kind of discrimination. The law prohibits many kinds of discrimination in the federal workplace, including discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, and disability. At first glance, you may not think that any of these apply to you. However, it is helpful to take a moment to consider whether any of your colleagues have been in your situation. For example, do you know a colleague of a different race who showed up late to work one day but was not charged with AWOL? Has your supervisor treated you worse than other colleagues of a different sexual orientation or gender? Are you charged AWOL every time you ask for leave to see your doctor for medical appointments? Think carefully—workplace discrimination can often show up in subtle ways.  What If My Supervisor Marked Me as AWOL for Being on Active Military Duty? Many federal employees are veterans of the armed forces. Some of these veterans retire before they enter federal service. Others are reservists. The law prohibits federal employers from discriminating against a reservist because of their reserve duty requirements. Similarly, if a federal employee who is also a reservist is called into active duty, they cannot be marked as AWOL. If your supervisor marked you as AWOL after you were ordered to active military duty, you might be able to sue them for military discrimination.  What Are My Rights If I Have Been Charged with AWOL? Most private-sector employees have few due process rights. This means their employer is free to punish them without notice and without providing them any opportunity for rebuttal or defense.  Thankfully, United States Code guarantees federal employees due process once they complete their probationary period. As a result, your employer generally cannot simply fire you or punish you for being AWOL. Instead, they generally have to provide you with: Without these protections, any adverse action taken against you can be thrown out for violating your rights.   Charged with AWOL? Let a Knowledgeable AWOL Attorney Help You Today If your federal employer has charged you with AWOL, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You may feel tempted to simply “roll over” and accept the agency’s punishment, but you shouldn’t. Take a stand instead. Fight for your rights and for your federal career.  At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we care about your well-being and your future. We want to sit down with you and listen to your story. Once you have told us the facts of your case, we can give you your legal options. No matter what you decide, we will spare no...

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

A Guide to the Hatch Act for Federal Employees

The executive branch of the federal government and its numerous employees need to work for the benefit of all Americans. Therefore, federal employees need to maintain an appearance of political impartiality within the workplace. To help employees be impartial, Congress passed the Hatch Act of 1939. The Hatch Act places several limitations on the kinds of political activities federal employees can engage in. Running afoul of these limitations is serious and is grounds for discipline. So if you are aware of a Hatch Act violation, you should report it to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). However, reporting a Hatch Act violation may lead to retaliation, so make sure you contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney first.  What is the Hatch Act? The Hatch Act is a law that aims to keep the din of partisan politics out of the federal workplace. At the same time, it tries to protect federal employees’ first amendment rights.  Unlawful Activities Under the Hatch Act Covered Hatch Act employees cannot do any of the following: Run for office in a partisan political election. However, federal employees can be candidates in non-partisan elections. Many local positions, like sheriff or judge, are nonpartisan.  Solicit or discourage the political activity of any person doing business with the government. In other words, federal employees need to keep politics out of their dealings with business partners of the government.  Invite subordinates to engage in partisan political activity or attend political events. Obviously, this prohibition applies to supervisors. Whatever their personal relationship with their subordinates, supervisors must avoid suggesting or recommending they go to political rallies or vote for a particular candidate.  Use their official authority to interfere with an election. For instance, military commander should not use their power to shut down a polling station.  Ask for, accept, or receive political contributions. There is a very narrow exception to this rule, but employees must meet several conditions to enjoy this exception. One requirement is that both employees be in the same labor organization. Engage in political activity while on duty, in the workplace, or in a government vehicle. Political activity includes things like wearing partisan political clothing, making political contributions, and doing campaign-related tasks. While these prohibitions apply to most employees, some types of federal employees face additional restrictions. Examples include career senior executive service (SES) employees and administrative law judges (ALJs).  Acceptable Activities Under the Hatch Act Despite these limitations, you can still do many political activities under the Hatch Act. Some of these activities include: Registering to vote and voting in partisan elections—You can vote for any person you like, even if that person is an independent or belongs to a third party.  Helping with voter registration drives—Merely encouraging people to vote does not mean they have to support a political party.  Joining and serving in partisan political groups—This means your co-worker Bob can participate in the local Democratic Party group as long as he does not ask you to join him. Attending political rallies and political meetings—This includes local town-hall meetings, candidate rallies, and even partisan presidential conventions.  Making speeches for or against candidates in a partisan election—Keep in mind, though, that you can only do this outside of the federal workplace.  Expressing your opinions about political issues—You can express your opinions about non-partisan opinions even in the workplace.  Expressing your opinions about partisan political issues or candidates—Unlike non-partisan issues, you cannot carry out this activity if you are at work or using your official authority.  This list is not exhaustive. So you may still be able to carry out some political activities, especially when you are not on duty. If you want to learn more about what the Hatch Act allows, ask a federal employment lawyer.  Which Federal Employees Does the Hatch Act Cover? The Hatch Act applies to federal employees working for the executive branch of the U.S. government. This includes the vast majority of federal employees. Just a few of the many executive branch agencies are: The Department of Defense, The Department of Education, The Department of Energy, The Department of Agriculture, and   The Environmental Protection Agency The Hatch Act does not cover employees working for the legislative or judicial branches. But it can be difficult to know which branch of government is served by which agencies. A few agencies that fall under the legislative branch are: The Government Accountability Office The Copyright Office The Congressional Budget Office The Library of Congress The House of Representatives The Senate The U.S. Capitol Police Examples of judiciary branch agencies and organizations include: All federal courts The U.S. Sentencing Commission The Federal Judicial Center The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts Despite these exceptions, a good rule of thumb is to assume that you are covered by the Hatch Act.  Interested in Learning More About the Hatch Act? Every two to four years, the Hatch Act becomes a hot issue within the federal workplace. During those times, it can be difficult to learn about what is acceptable under the law. And on top of that, there are all kinds of misinformation and misunderstandings about the Hatch Act. If you would like to learn more about what you can do under the Hatch Act, you need to consult a good attorney.  Our team at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC is standing by to help you. We want you to be able to exercise your political rights freely. We can also help you if your supervisor or another bad actor is violating the Hatch Act. With our team, you can rest assured you will get top-notch legal advice. Reach out today by calling us at (833) 833-3529 or contacting 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: 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. You can also schedule an appointment online.

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