| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Federal Employees & Working Remote

The COVID-19 pandemic started a revolution in how people carried out their work. That revolution extends to the federal government. Federal employees working from home or seeking remote work arrangements are the front-line soldiers of this change. However, changes are occurring so rapidly that it’s difficult to stay ahead of all the developments.Fortunately, our team at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC, works hard to maneuver through these evolving environments. Our objective is for every federal employee to understand their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities regarding remote work. We’ll cover these issues in this piece. If you have additional questions or are one of the many federal employees seeking remote work, give one of our quality federal employment attorneys a call today.  What Is Remote Work, and How Does It Differ from Telework? Remote work is a permanent working arrangement where you work on a full-time basis from an alternative work site rather than an office or traditional workplace. Generally, the remote work location is your home. In a remote work arrangement, your agency cannot require you to report to the traditional worksite on any regular or recurring basis. Furthermore, your remote workplace doesn’t have to be in the local commuting area of your agency’s traditional office.  By contrast, telework is a flexible work arrangement where you can perform your duties from an approved alternate worksite, usually on a part-time basis. While you can still use your home as your alternate telework worksite, you have to remain within the local commuting area of the agency’s main office.  Are There Remote Work Benefits for Employees in the Federal Government? Absolutely. Remote work offers several benefits for federal employees. These include increased flexibility, reduced commuting time and costs, and a better work-life balance. In addition, it allows employees to design a work environment tailored to their personal productivity preferences. Consequently, remote work employees usually enjoy enhanced job satisfaction and efficiency compared to their teleworking and in-office counterparts. That said, remote work is not a universal benefit or right for all federal employees. Its availability varies from one agency to another. Agencies can also remove existing remote work arrangements for valid business considerations.  Which Federal Agencies Allow Remote Work? If you want to learn more, you can visit the website of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Remote work for federal employees and related frequently asked questions are discussed in detail on their site. But generally, many federal agencies have embraced remote work to some degree or another, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, not all positions or offices have the same liberal attitude toward remote work. Agencies retain the discretion to decide whether to offer remote work options and determine employee eligibility according to performance and operational needs. Due to the quickly changing nature of the attitude toward remote work, there isn’t an exhaustive list of agencies that offer it. You should contact an agency’s human resources department to obtain the most up-to-date information.  Can I Request Remote Work As a Reasonable Accommodation? Yes. Federal employees can request remote work as a reasonable accommodation under certain circumstances. First, you must have a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Second, you need to show that remote work would help you perform the core duties of your essential position with your limitations. Third, you will have to produce adequate medical documentation to support the need for accommodation. Finally, you must be ready to engage in an interactive process with your employer to determine if remote work is feasible for your agency.  Have More Questions About Remote Work? Give Us a Call Today. As the federal workforce continues to adapt to the increasing demand for flexibility and remote work opportunities, federal employees need to stay informed about their rights and the policies governing this type of work within their agencies. Whether you’re exploring the possibility of remote work as a reasonable accommodation or seeking to understand more of the rules surrounding remote work, the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC, is here to guide you. Our expertise in federal employment law positions us to provide unparalleled advice and support as you explore your legal options. Furthermore, we can represent you in a variety of legal situations if your employer violates your rights. Set up an initial consultation with us today by calling us or reaching out online. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Workplace Discrimination

Federal Efforts to Promote Equal Pay for Federal Employees

For decades, the federal government has been a pioneer in the quest for equal pay stands. Its perseverance stands as a testament to the ongoing commitment to gender equality and non-discrimination. But what do these efforts involve? It began with the Equal Pay Act, which required federal employees to receive equal pay for equal work, no matter their sex or gender. This law helped shrink the pay gap from 28% to 11% between 1998 and 2007. More recently, the Biden Administration has taken additional steps to further shrink the wage gap and strengthen the protections of the Equal Pay Act for federal employees.  Today we’ll discuss the Equal Pay Act and how it protects federal employees from unequal pay. We’ll also discuss recent actions by the Biden Administration to promote equal pay for federal employees. If you think you are not receiving equal pay because of your sex, contact our team of dedicated federal employment attorneys today.  What Is the Equal Pay Act? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) stands as the primary federal effort to eliminate the longstanding disparities in pay between men and women. Congress crafted it with one simple intention: to guarantee that federal employees in the same workplace who perform substantially similar work under similar conditions receive equal pay. Rather, agencies must set the pay for federal employees according to seniority, merit, efficiency, or some other factor that does not consider gender. It further states that agencies cannot reduce any employee’s wage to eliminate wage gaps between men and women.  The EPA contains several other points: As with Title VII violations, federal employees who suspect that they are not receiving equal pay must contact an EEO counselor at their agency within 45 days of the alleged violation. Remedies under the EPA can include back pay for up to three years before the filing of a charge, liquidated damages, and legal costs.  Who Does the Equal Pay Act Protect? The protective reach of the EPA extends to all federal employees. It also extends to all employees who fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In practice, this means virtually all employment contexts, including private educational institutions, private sector positions, and state and local governments. Furthermore, the EPA implicitly recognizes the new definitions of gender and sex that are currently redefining the federal government. Therefore, employers cannot pay nonbinary individuals different wages.  Initiatives by Recent Presidential Administrations Several recent presidential administrations have taken steps to build upon the EPA and further the cause of equal pay. In 2009, the Obama administration galvanized the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This act resets the statute of limitations on equal pay lawsuits with each discriminatory paycheck, effectively expanding the window for filing complaints. President Obama established the National Equal Pay Task Force as well. This task force aimed to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, improve interagency coordination and data collection, and boost enforcement efforts. More recently, the Biden administration issued a final rule by the Office of Personnel Management prohibiting federal agencies from considering someone’s current or past pay when determining their federal salary.  We’re Ready to Help You Advance the Cause of Equal Pay Today. The path to achieving and maintaining equal pay within the federal workforce is ongoing. At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC, we are determined to assist any federal employee who suffers a violation of the EPA or other federal anti-discrimination laws. We promise to leverage our legal experience to uphold the principles of equality and fairness. If you believe you have been subjected to wage discrimination or if you are seeking advice on ensuring compliance with equal pay laws, do not hesitate to contact us. Together, we can turn the ideal of equal pay for equal work into an enduring reality for the federal workforce.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Retirement

What Is a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for Federal Employees?

Federal retirement is one of the most important benefits of being a federal employee. Yet sometimes, understanding the technicalities around retirement can be tough. Today, we’ll talk about the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). We’ll begin with a basic rundown of the TSP itself. We’ll then examine its role in providing you with a safe retirement and how you can maximize the benefits. If you have any more questions, contact one of the attorneys at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC.  What Is the TSP? At its core, the TSP is a retirement savings and investment plan with tax advantages. It was designed specifically for federal employees and members of the Armed Forces. It mirrors the structure and benefits of private sector 401K plans, and it offers both traditional and Roth options for contributions. The traditional option allows you to make pre-tax contributions. On the other hand, the Roth option taxes you upfront for your contributions but allows for tax-free growth and withdrawals.  As a participant, you can invest your contribution across a variety of funds, including those listed below. You can spread your investments throughout these funds or center all of your available assets in one fund. There are also Lifecycle funds with varying levels of risk that shift according to your estimated retirement year.  TSP’s Role in Your Retirement The TSP is a cornerstone of federal retirement planning, but it doesn’t work alone. Rather, it works in concert with the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) annuity and Social Security benefits to create a comprehensive retirement income. It fills the gap between what FERS and Social Security provide and the actual income needed to maintain your standard of living in retirement. In addition, it offers the low administrative costs and diverse investment options we previously mentioned. Together, the TSP, FERs annuity, and Social Security benefits all but guarantee a high quality of living for federal employees in their retirement years. Tips for Maximizing Your TSP Because it plays a key role in your financial security, you must take every step possible to maximize your TSP. Here are several key tips that will help you accomplish that goal: Finally, maximize catch-up contributions once you hit 50. There is a cap on how much federal employees can contribute to their TSPs. However, catch-up contributions allow older federal employees to contribute extra, helping them prepare for retirement.  Have More Questions About the Federal Thrift Savings Plan? We Can Help.  Understanding all aspects of federal retirement, including the Thrift Savings Plan, is essential for any federal employee looking to secure a financially stable future. We hope this article has answered your most pressing questions about the TSP and how it fits in your retirement future. The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC is here to assist you in charting your course toward retirement. We’ll apply our extensive legal experience to help you make the most of your retirement package. Whether you’re new to federal service or nearing retirement, we invite you to reach out. Let’s ensure your TSP is working as hard for you as you have worked for the federal government. Contact us today.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Harassment

What Is Unlawful Harassment Under Federal Law?

Unlawful harassment occurs when an employer treats a person or group differently from others who are similarly situated. If you work for the federal government and believe that you have experienced unlawful workplace harassment, there is a specific procedure you must follow to get relief. Today, we will discuss the basics of what constitutes harassment under federal law, and what federal employees can do about it. If you believe you have experienced unlawful harassment in your federal workplace, you may be available in your situation. Contact an experienced federal employment lawyer by sending an online message or calling our firm at (866) 626-5325 today. What Is Unlawful Harassment? Unlawful harassment is a form of employment discrimination, violating multiple federal acts designed to provide equal rights to all employees. These include: This conduct could be based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, genetic information, or disability. Types of Unlawful Workplace Harassment Conduct Unlawful harassment can include verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct. Verbal or Written Harassment  Verbal harassment may include insults, derogatory slurs or comments, or name-calling. Invasive questions about a person’s body, appearance, clothing, customs, or sexual activity may also qualify as unlawful workplace harassment. Verbal harassment includes written, emailed, or text statements.  Visual Harassment Visual harassment can be harder to detect or prove. But examples include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive noises, hostile eye contact, and derogatory or offensive images. Offensive images can come in many forms, including images on the clothing someone wears to work. Physical Harassment Physical harassment can include unwanted proximity. This can include following, standing close to, or actually touching someone. Sexually suggestive hand gestures or facial expressions can be categorized as physical harassment as well, even if there is no actual contact. And of course, actually touching someone else’s body without permission in any type of sexual or unwanted manner is prohibited. What Is Unlawful Retaliation? Retaliation is a specific form of discrimination that may occur in response to an employee making a good faith complaint about workplace harassment or discrimination. Retaliation can also happen in response to the refusal of sexual advances or defending others from advances. Requests for disability or religious accommodations may also be met with retaliation. Unlawful retaliation occurs when an employer changes the terms of employment such as responsibilities, pay, schedule, or other factors as a form of punishment.  What Three Factors Are Commonly Used to Determine Unlawful Workplace Harassment?  Not all offensive actions rise to the level of illegality. Petty slights, annoyances, or isolated incidents, though bothersome, may not be severe enough to constitute a claim for unlawful harassment. Under federal law, unlawful workplace harassment is defined by three key factors: the conduct must be unwelcome, it must be either severe or pervasive, and it must interfere with the victim’s work performance. If any of these factors are applicable in your situation, you may be eligible for financial compensation.  Process of Filing a Formal Unlawful Workplace Harassment Complaint for Federal Employees If you have experienced unlawful harassment in a federal workplace, you have options to assert your rights. It is important to note that these are legal remedies, and the best way to achieve the results you deserve is to hire an experienced federal EEOC attorney.  Contact Your EEO Counselor Each federal agency has an EEO counselor. Contact your designated counselor within 45 days of when the discrimination occurred. This is the first step prior to filing a formal complaint with the EEOC. The counselor can walk you through the process. You may have multiple options for filing. An experienced EEOC attorney can guide you through this process.  Alternative Dispute Resolution After speaking with your EEO counselor, federal employees may participate in alternative dispute resolution. This typically means mediation and is a good opportunity to try to resolve issues at the lowest level. However, if this does not resolve the problem, it may be time to file a formal complaint. File a Formal Complaint If your unlawful workplace harassment dispute cannot be resolved using alternative dispute resolution, your EEO counselor will provide you with a written notice that gives you the right to file a formal complaint within 15 days. The notice will explain how to properly file the formal complaint.  Agency Investigation Once the agency accepts your discrimination claim, they will initiate an investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, you may request an immediate final decision or a hearing before an administrative judge.  Hearing Before an Administrative Judge Hearings are not always a part of the EEOC formal complaint process depending on your claim. During the hearing, your case is presented to the judge who reviews information from both sides and makes a decision whether or not there was discrimination.  Final Decision and Appeal The federal agency will review the judge’s decision. If the judge found unlawful harassment, the agency can implement the judge’s orders or its own remedy. Federal employees may still appeal to the EEOC’s appellate division, the Office of Federal Operation (OFO), within 30 days if the remedy is unfavorable.  Suing for Unlawful Workplace Harassment The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, can help you understand your complaint and the financial impact of the harassment. Our team is passionate about helping federal employees assert their rights and can help you collect evidence and build your case. Contact us online today or call (866) 626-5325.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Retirement

Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) for Federal Employees

The vast majority of federal employees look forward to enjoying the federal government’s generous retirement package. Yet there is no well-defined minimum retirement age for federal employees because there are several different kinds of early retirement. Thus, the minimum retirement age for federal employees hinges on the type of retirement. These forms of retirement depend, in turn, on things like the employee’s health status and years of federal service. The upside of this arrangement is that federal employees have significant flexibility when considering retirement options. However, there are downsides that you should consider as well.  We’ll unpack the various minimum retirement ages for federal employees in this article. We’ll also delve into what you can do to help minimize any negative consequences of early retirement. However, if you have more specific questions or want legal advice for your personal situation, give our firm a call today. What Is the Minimum Retirement Age for Federal Employees? The general minimum retirement age depends on which kind of federal retirement system you are serving under.  Minimum Retirement Age in the Civil Service Retirement System  If you are an older employee who joined the federal service before 1987, you may be under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Employees under CSRS can technically retire at any time. However, the earliest you can retire under CSRS without reducing your retirement benefits is 55. This low age is achievable only if you have 30 years of service. CSRS employees with more than 20 years of service of a minimum retirement age of 60. CSRS employees with fewer years of service have a minimum retirement age of 62. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. We’ll explore those in a moment. Calculating Minimum Retirement Age Under the Federal Employee Retirement System If you began your federal career in or after 1987, you are under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). Calculating the retirement age depends on your year of birth. If you were born before 1948, then you can retire at 55. If you were born in 1970 or later, you can enjoy minimum retirement at 57. And if you were born between 1948 and 1970, your minimum retirement age will be between 55 and 2 months and 56 and 10 months. However, there’s an additional fact that bears mentioning. Under FERS, you may not receive your complete retirement annuity even after you reach your minimum retirement age. For instance, if you have fewer than 30 years of federal service when you reach your retirement age, the government will reduce your retirement benefits by 5% for every year that you are under 62. That means if you retire at age 60 with 28 years of federal, you will receive only 90% of your retirement annuity from the government. Similarly, if you retire at age 55, you can expect to receive just 65% of your retirement benefits.  Year of Birth Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) Before 1948 55 1948 55 and 2 months 1949 55 and 4 months 1950 55 and 6 months 1951 55 and 8 months 1952 55 and 10 months 1952-1964 56 1965 56 and 2 months 1966 56 and 4 months 1967 56 and 6 months 1968 56 and 8 months 1969 56 and 10 months Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) 57 According to the U.S. CBP, Here is a chart for Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) Exploring Alternative Retirement Plans Under both FERS and CSRS, employees can use several pathways to retire before the minimum retirement age. Specifically, federal employees can retire early through one of three situations: If you want to learn more about these options, it’s best to contact a federal employment attorney. Is There a Mandatory Retirement Age for Federal Employees? Generally, no. Mandatory retirement ages exist only for federal law enforcement officers and firefighters. Regardless of whether they are under FERS or CSRS, both law enforcement officers and firefighters have to retire at age 57, assuming they have 20 years of service. That said, an agency head can choose to allow a law enforcement officer to serve until 60 if the agency head finds that the employee’s service benefits the public interest.  Ready to learn more about achieving early retirement? Reach out to us today and let’s explore your questions together! It can be overwhelming to figure out your best options for retirement. And your agency’s human resources department may not have the answers you need. If you want accurate legal answers rather than vague responses and bureaucratic red tape, contact an experienced federal employment attorney. With the right legal counsel, you can get a clear picture of your retirement options and prepare your next steps. Our team at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing is 100% committed to serving federal employees and making their lives easier. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for our clients to reach their retirement goals and enjoy life after the federal government.  We recognize many people think you need large amounts of cash on hand to even speak to an attorney. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We care about you and your story, set up your consultation today by calling us at 1-866-612-5956. You can also contact us online. 

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Retirement

Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) vs. Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)

One of the greatest benefits of government work is generous retirement. The federal service includes two systems, the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System. Because of the complexity of both systems, employees often have questions about the provisions of each one. We also commonly get asked, CSRS vs. FERS: Which is better? So to help address questions about these programs, we’ll cover the essential characteristics of both systems.  What’s the Relationship Between CSRS and FERS? Congress established the Civil Service Retirement System in 1920 with the passage of the Federal Employees’ Retirement Act. At the time, the government was looking for ways to attract and retain skilled workers, and retirement benefits were seen as an important part of that effort. Originally, federal employees had to contribute to their own retirement accounts, but the government also contributed to those accounts. On top of that, all CSRS retirement benefits used a unique formula that took into account an employee’s length of service and highest average salary. Over the years, the CSRS underwent a number of changes, including the addition of survivor benefits and disability benefits. However, by the 1980s, the system was facing a number of financial challenges. Many of the retirement benefits promised under the system had become unsustainable, and there were concerns about the long-term viability of the program. In response to these challenges, Congress passed the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986, which established the FERS. Congress intended FERS to be more cost-effective and sustainable over the long term. FERS did not go into effect immediately. Instead, it only began to come into effect after 1984. Between the years of 1984 and 1987, employees could choose which retirement plan to join. All federal employees entering federal service after 1986 had to use FERS. Despite the creation of the FERS system, the CSRS continues to be a significant part of the federal retirement landscape. Many federal employees who were hired before 1984 still receive coverage under CSRS, so the system remains an important source of retirement benefits for millions of Americans. How Do the Federal CSRS vs. FERS Compare in Retirement Benefits? When comparing CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System) and FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System), it’s essential to note that CSRS offers the same retirement annuity for all retirees who retire at 55 or later, while FERS reduces retirement annuity for those retiring before the age of 62. Additionally, under CSRS, disability retirement amounts to 40% of the employee’s ‘high-three‘ salary. The retirement annuity is calculated by multiplying the high-three average by a percentage factor, which changes depending on the employee’s length of service. The percentage factor is 1.5% for the first five years of service, 1.75% for the next five years, and 2.0% for each year of service after 10 years. Under FERS, retirement pay is composed of three parts: a basic benefit, a Social Security benefit, and a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) benefit. The basic benefit implements a similar formula to the CSRS’s “high-three” system. However, the percentage factor is lower, usually around 1%. The Social Security benefit is based on the employee’s earnings history and the age at which they begin receiving benefits. Finally, there is the TSP, which functions like a 401k or another investment plan. Both the employee and the government contribute to the TSP over time. Meanwhile, the employee can invest their TSP funds in one of several investment opportunities. When the employee retires, they can enjoy those contributions and any returns on those investments.  CSRS vs. FERS: Additional Differences and Similarities In several ways, the CSRS was a more generous retirement system than FERS. For instance, under CSRS, all retirees received cost-of-living adjustments, even if they retired young. FERS retirees usually receive a cost-of-living adjustment only if they retire at 62 or later.   However, there are some similarities. Both CSRS and FERS offer benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, and survivor benefits. However, FERS benefits are often less generous than CSRS retirement benefits. For instance, CSRS allows all retirees to receive the same retirement annuity as long as they retire at 55 or later. On the other hand, FERS reduces your retirement annuity for anyone retiring below the age of 62. Disability retirement under CSRS is 40% of the employee’s “high-three” salary. Under FERS, the disability retirement is 1.0% or 1.1% of your high-three salary for each year of federal service you have. Thus, an employee would receive less in disability retirement benefits under FERS unless they have over 40 years of federal service.  Still Curious About CSRS vs. FERS? We Can Help You with Any Federal Employment Need While you might have a general idea of federal employment retirement plans based on this article, it’s understandable if you have additional questions. To get accurate answers, it’s best to seek out a knowledgeable employment lawyer sooner rather than later. An adept federal employment attorney can explain which retirement system you are under and how that affects your financial future. If your agency has made some kind of mistake, an attorney can intervene on your behalf and help you file a claim. However, it’s crucial to find the right attorney to ensure the best chances of success. For experienced and reliable legal representation, look no further than the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. Our team of legal professionals is experienced in all types of federal employment matters, including FERS and CSRS issues. We are committed to safeguarding your rights as a federal employee and ensuring you are rightfully compensated for your federal service. To schedule an initial consultation, call us today at 866-612-5956. You can also schedule an appointment with us online and read about our previous successes.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

Is Nepotism Illegal in the Federal Workplace?

The word “nepotism” refers to favorable treatment towards an individual in the workplace because of their familial connection. Few people know what nepotism looks like, and even fewer know about the legality of nepotism in the federal workplace. This is completely understandable, given that nepotism is not as well-known as race or age discrimination.  Nonetheless, it’s vital you understand the truth about nepotism because it can have destructive effects on your career.  Clients occasionally ask us, Is nepotism illegal in the workplace? The answer is yes. In this article, we’ll discuss the official definition of nepotism, as well as the applicable federal employee nepotism laws that prohibit it. If you think you or a loved one are experiencing nepotism, contact our talented federal employment attorneys today.  Nepotism: Definition and Applicable Federal Employee Nepotism Laws The word nepotism originates from the Latin word for nephew. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b) defines nepotism as the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of any individual who is a relative to a civilian position within the federal government. 5 U.S.C. § 3110(a)(3) defines a relative as any of the following:  Although grandparents and grandchildren are technically left out of this definition, advocating for appointing them to a federal position would likely run afoul of ethics regulations.  The chief law that applies to nepotism is the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which is the foundational law for the modern federal civil service. However, it is also prohibited by 5 C.F.R. § 2635. This statute outlines the standards of ethical conduct for federal employees. Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 208 renders nepotism a criminal act in situations where a federal official participates in a matter in which they have a personal financial interest. Is Nepotism Illegal in Government Workplaces?  To put it simply, yes. Nepotism is indeed illegal in government workplaces. The laws and regulations are clear and firm in their stance against the practice. This prohibition aims to uphold the integrity of the federal civil service. It further attempts to guarantee that employment decisions are predicated on a person’s merit and qualifications rather than their familial connections.  It’s also worth noting that nepotism is a prohibited personnel practice. That means that any employee who witnesses nepotism in a government space can file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Filing a complaint makes you a federal whistleblower and protects you from any act of retaliation.  Nepotism vs. Cronyism People often confuse nepotism with its equally shady cousin, cronyism. While they’re branches of the same unsavory tree, there are subtle differences between them. Let’s briefly explore the differences. Nepotism As we discussed earlier, nepotism is all about family. It takes place when someone in a position of authority in a federal workplace gives preferential treatment to their relatives. One example would be hiring your brother for a role he’s not quite cut out for. Another example would be promoting a cousin over more qualified candidates. It’s the family ties that bind in nepotism. Cronyism Instead of family, cronyism is all about friends and associates. Cronyism occurs when someone in power favors friends or acquaintances, offering them jobs or promotions because of their personal relationships rather than their qualifications. We’ve all heard the old adage, It’s not what you know, but who you know. Cronyism would be the extreme version of that adage coming to life. Yet while American legal and ethical standards have always frowned upon nepotism, cronyism has been somewhat more common in this nation’s history. Nonetheless, cronyism is unacceptable under federal ethics standards. Are You Witnessing Nepotism In Your Federal Workplace? Take a Stand with the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC.  Whether it takes the form of nepotism or cronyism, favoritism has no place in the federal workplace. Only a person’s merit and performance at work should control their position in the government. If you think you might be a witness to nepotism in your workplace, take action today.  Before you take action, it’s prudent to consult with a federal employment attorney. They can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing, confirm whether the behavior is nepotism, and present you with your legal options. If necessary, a federal employment attorney can help you prepare and file a complaint with the OSC to correct the situation.  Don’t just trust any law firm to represent you. Instead, go with a firm that is deeply knowledgeable about federal employment issues. The team at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, only practices federal employment law. We won’t make rookie mistakes like other firms. Instead, you can rely on us to provide top-notch legal representation and first-rate customer service. Call us today or reach out to us on our website to set up your initial consultation.

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Discrimination

Parental Status Discrimination in the Federal Government

Parental discrimination in the workplace is less common than most other forms of discrimination. It was only definitively banned in 2000 when then-President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13152. Despite that ban, parental status discrimination continues to occur. Moreover, parental status discrimination also frequently comes with pregnancy discrimination—so it’s prudent to educate yourself on its definition. You should also review at least one parental status discrimination example so you have an idea of what it looks like in the real world.  As federal employment attorneys, one of our primary goals is to educate federal employees about potential infringements on their rights. We’ll begin this article by reviewing the federal definition of parental status discrimination. We’ll then go through examples of parental status discrimination and discuss when it is wise to obtain legal assistance. If you have additional questions about parental status discrimination after reading this article, contact us today.  What Is the Definition of Parental Status Discrimination? Executive Order 13152 defines “status as a parent” to refer to anyone who is a parent of a minor or an adult who has a mental or physical disability. The word parent refers to: It also includes anyone who is trying to obtain custody or adopt a child or disabled adult.  On the other hand, the word “discrimination” refers to any negative treatment of a federal employee based on such status. This can include:  Finally, discrimination includes acts that can contribute to a hostile work environment, like slurs, inappropriate jokes, threats of violence, and lewd comments. Discrimination can be overt or subtle. In either case, it undermines the fundamental principle of equality by imposing disadvantages on certain groups because of their personal characteristics rather than their job performance. Parental Status Discrimination Example John, a dedicated federal employee at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has worked there for seven years. He is known for his hard work and has consistently received positive performance reviews. John and his wife recently adopted two young children. To balance his work and new family responsibilities, John requested a flexible work schedule, a benefit that his agency offers to all employees.  John’s immediate supervisor, Susan, approved his request initially. However, John noticed a significant change in how Susan treated him compared to his colleagues over the following months. Despite John’s continued high performance, he realized his supervisor was leaving him out of important project meetings. Also, he discovered his chain of command was no longer considering him for roles on high-profile projects that were crucial for his career advancement. Instead, John’s management began offering these roles to co-workers who were not parents or whose children were older. Just last week, John experienced two troubling incidents with Susan. On Monday, Susan casually remarked that John might be “too busy with the kids” to take on additional responsibilities during a department meeting. On Thursday, Susan passed over John for a team lead position on a high-profile project. When John inquired about this, Susan mentioned that he already had enough on his plate with his family. Should I Obtain Legal Help? The behavior in this parental status discrimination example is just one of countless possible scenarios involving that kind of behavior. If you think you or a loved one are receiving different treatment because of your parental status, there are several signs you should obtain legal counsel:  Even if you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing parental status discrimination, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Consulting an attorney can help you prevent the situation from escalating further.  Let Us Help You Find Your Path Forward Dealing with parental status discrimination is generally a bewildering and unexpected ordeal. But remember, you can hire a powerful advocate to help you surmount this situation. Having a skilled attorney can be a game-changer in defending your rights and saving your career. Here at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, our focus is solely on federal employment law. That means we’re deeply familiar with relatively obscure types of discrimination, including parental status discrimination. When you set up an appointment with us, we can assess whether your employer is discriminating against you and provide you with an overview of your legal options.  Don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call today or contact us online to arrange a free initial consultation.

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Absence Without Leave (AWOL)

AWOL, which stands for ‘Absence Without Leave,’ is a term commonly used in work settings. It refers to an employee’s unauthorized absence from their duty or workplace without prior approval. When an employee goes AWOL, it typically results in a non-pay status, as their absence has not been officially sanctioned by their employer. 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...

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

How to Prove Wrongful Demotion As A Federal Employee

If you have suffered an unfair demotion at work, then a wrongful demotion lawsuit will be your best bet for clearing your name and getting your career back on track. But before you begin your lawsuit, it’s vital to know how to prove your claims. As Sun Tzu once wrote, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war.” There are two primary ways to prove wrongful demotion as a federal employee. The first is by showing that the government did not have just cause to remove you. The second way is by proving that your employer demoted you for illegal reasons, like discrimination or retaliation. Read on to learn more about these pathways and their respective legal requirements. If you have more detailed questions after reading this article, contact one of our outstanding federal employment attorneys.  How to Handle an Unfair Demotion Handling an unfair demotion is difficult under any circumstances. However, your strategy depends on how far along you are in the disciplinary process. As a brief reminder, there are three main stages of the disciplinary process:  1. Responding Before Your Employer Officially Proposes a Demotion Many employees have no idea that their employer is about to propose their demotion. However, there are other situations where you know that some kind of action is coming. If you are currently in this situation, make sure you document all interactions with your employer. Save copies of any relevant emails and journal any notable conversations. Continue doing this throughout every part of the disciplinary process.  Furthermore, consider scheduling a meeting with your supervisor or human resources team to discuss the alleged issue and potential alternatives. Hiring a legal representative for this kind of meeting can be a great way to show your employer that you want to resolve the situation and are willing to stand up for your rights. With timely action, many disciplinary actions can be delayed or even canceled. 2. Responding at the Proposal Stage By now, your employer is officially attempting to remove you. Fortunately, the law provides you with several protections. Due process requires that your employer first give you 30 days advance notice of its intent to demote you. They must do this in writing via a proposal letter. A proposal must include the following information to meet due process requirements: Make full use of all of these rights. Check whether the proposal letter meets all due process requirements. After that, carefully review the evidence. Does the proposal include objective evidence or just second-hand eyewitness accounts? Does anything suggest that you are getting treated differently than your colleagues?  Next, hire a legal advisor to help you craft a thorough oral and written reply. This reply may prove vital in convincing the deciding official not to demote you. 3. Responding After the Final Decision Letter After a minimum of 30 days, your employer will issue a final decision letter. In this letter, the deciding official can either uphold the penalty, mitigate it, or cancel the action entirely.  If you have received a decision letter upholding the unfair demotion, then you have the right to appeal the action to the Merit Systems Protection Board  (MSPB). Appeal your unfair demotion with the board within 30 days of the decision letter date. After that, hire an attorney to discuss how you will argue your case.  Legal Standards at an MSPB Hearing In an MSPB hearing, the burden is on your employer to justify their actions. If the demotion was related to misconduct, then your employer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you committed the alleged conduct. They must also demonstrate that there is a nexus between your alleged misconduct and the efficiency of the federal service. If they cannot meet this burden, then the judge will overturn or mitigate your demotion. Even if the agency meets its burden, you have the opportunity to defend yourself by raising affirmative defenses. There are two main types of affirmative defenses: You can also argue that the agency’s decision was not in accordance with the law in some other way. If you can prove your affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence, then you will prevail even if the agency proves you committed the alleged misconduct. Can There Be Compensation for a Wrongful Demotion? Yes. If you succeed in your appeal, the MSPB can award you back pay, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees. It can also reinstate you in your previous position. Contact Our Federal Employment Attorneys to Help You Handle Your Unfair Demotion Here at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, each one of our attorneys has a proven track record of effective litigation on behalf of federal employees. We’ve tackled all kinds of MSPB appeals, including ones for unfair and improper demotions. Thanks to our experience, we can work with you to identify an effective litigation strategy that maximizes your chance of a successful appeal. Along the way, we’ll provide you with sterling client service. Reach out to us today to schedule an initial appointment. 

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