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Federal Employment Law
employee misconduct

No federal employee ever wants to receive an accusation of misconduct.

As you can imagine, it can lead to all kinds of negative consequences.

In the worst-case scenario, it can even derail your entire federal career. 

That said, it’s essential for every federal employee to understand what misconduct is and what they can do if they’ve been accused of committing misconduct.

This piece will delve into those topics and also relate several hypothetical examples of misconduct. 

If you want to learn more about employee misconduct or receive customized legal advice, contact the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC today. 

What Is Employee Misconduct?

Understanding what constitutes misconduct by a federal employee is not always straightforward.

However, the basic definition of employee misconduct is any behavior, action, or decision that breaches the established rules, policies, or expectations of a federal employer.

Fortunately, misconduct generally does not include things like simple accidents. It’s completely natural for all employees to occasionally make a mistake.

It’s the intentional or grossly negligent actions that constitute misconduct.

Understanding the Nuances

There are several key concepts to keep in mind as we explore the concept of employee misconduct. 


Chief among these is the severity of the misconduct. Misconduct isn’t a one-size-fits-all term; its gravity can vary.

For instance, some actions are classified as minor infractions (like consistent tardiness or improper use of office communication channels), and some are seen as significant breaches (like leaking sensitive information or committing fraud). 

Position and history

Another key player in employee misconduct is your position and background.

Your level of seniority within the federal government and the duties of that position can play a significant role in how your employer evaluates your conduct.

In addition, any history of misconduct can color how your agency sees behavior that is questionable or problematic.

Guidelines and culture

Next, there are agency-specific guidelines and cultures to consider. Each federal agency has its own set of rules, guidelines, and expected behaviors.

Something that’s deemed acceptable in one agency might be seen as a breach in another. And in all agencies, you will encounter unwritten ethical standards.

Therefore, actions that might tarnish the reputation of a federal agency or lead to a public loss of trust can still constitute misconduct.


Finally, a key principle underlying employee discipline is the severity of the behavior and how that affects consequences.

Depending on the nature and frequency of the behavior, the consequences can range from verbal reprimands and mandatory training sessions to more severe punishments like demotions, suspensions, or even removal.

In any situation suggesting potential misconduct, it’s beneficial to seek clarity, guidance, and representation.

Federal Employee Misconduct Examples

To help you understand the virtually endless scope of federal employee misconduct, consider these examples.

  • Unauthorized use of government property. Using government resources for personal purposes is a common misconduct charge. Government property can include a vast array of things, including vehicles, computers, or even office supplies.
  • Failure to safeguard sensitive information. The vast majority of government positions involve some degree of sensitive or classified information. Failing to secure and protect this kind of information can have dire consequences and is a severe form of misconduct.
  • Lack of candor or providing false information. Providing false information on official documents, during investigations, or in other capacities is a kind of misconduct. Examples include falsifying time cards, lying about your credentials, or failing to discuss what you know during an internal investigation.
  • Intoxicants on duty: Using illegal drugs while on duty or arriving at work under the influence is a serious breach of conduct. In recent years, this charge has become more common because of the mismatch between state and federal approaches toward marijuana. 
  • Misuse of position. This charge encompasses any situations where an employee uses their position for personal gain or to benefit friends and family. Examples might be granting undue favors, accepting bribes, or nepotism.
  • Harassment or discrimination. Engaging in discriminatory or harassing behavior because of certain protected characteristics is a grave form of misconduct. Protected categories include an individual’s race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or gender identity
  • Failure to follow directives: Although this might seem minor, consistently ignoring or defying direct orders from supervisors can be serious misconduct.

These are only a few possible types of employee misconduct. If you face another kind of misconduct that you are unfamiliar with, it’s essential to contact a legal advisor. 

Understanding Misconduct Is Not the End of Your Journey. It’s Just the Beginning. 

If you have been accused of misconduct, learning the essentials and complexities of misconduct is just your starting point.

Next, you need to consider where these principles intersect with your own situation. You’ll need to evaluate how the circumstances of your positions and situation interplay with your agency’s goals.

Finally, you’ll need to establish whether illegal behavior like discrimination and harassment are playing a role. It’s incredibly difficult to do all this on your own.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this on your own. With the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC by your side, your future will rest in capable hands.

Our attorneys boast a deep comprehension of federal employment laws and procedures. In addition, we strive to provide exceptional client service.

With our assistance, you can feel confident when addressing any concerns or challenges you have that are tied to misconduct.

Contact us today to leverage our extensive knowledge and get the representation you deserve.

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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