We at Correia & Puth are dedicated to serving the many federal employees and contractors in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and across the United States who work hard every day to serve our country’s needs. We can help federal sector employees understand their workplace rights and navigate the maze of complaint procedures that are unique to the federal agency employment context.
Many of the same laws that protect private sector employees protect federal sector employees as well. Federal agencies are responsible for complying with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws that protect employees from discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy and sexual orientation), age (40 or older), disability, religion, or genetic information. Agencies are required under these laws to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or who require accommodations because of religious beliefs. Federal laws also prohibit retaliation for exercising one’s right to complain about discrimination, participating in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or requesting a reasonable accommodation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. Among other things, the EEOC is tasked with ensuring federal agency and department compliance with EEOC regulations, conducting hearings on EEO complaints, and adjudicating appeals from administrative decisions made by federal agencies on EEO complaints.
If you believe that a federal agency has discriminated against you for one of the reasons above, you have a right to file a complaint with that agency. Each agency is required to post information about how to file an EEO complaint. The first step is to contact an agency EEO Counselor within 45 days of the discriminatory action. If you wait too long, you may lose your right to seek a remedy.
The EEO complaints process can be lengthy and complex, and it can demand a great deal of time from an employee who is continuing to work full-time and keep up with obligations at home and in everyday life. At the same time, federal agencies have a wealth of experience in responding to EEO complaints. Agencies sometimes provide legal guidance to management officials or even limit the information they provide EEO personnel who are investigating your claim. It helps to have someone on your side.
If you are a federal employee and believe you have been discriminated or retaliated against, harassed, or denied a reasonable accommodation for a disability, contact Correia & Puth, PLLC.
Correia & Puth attorneys can fight for your rights in every step of the EEO process. We work to ensure that your employing agency properly defines and investigates your claims of discrimination or retaliation. You can rely on our skills and experience as litigators to build a strong case through the EEO hearings process. By thoroughly preparing and presenting your claims in a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge, we can put you in the best possible position as you seek a remedy for unlawful discrimination. At the same time, we look for every opportunity to avoid litigation by resolving your claims through discussions with the agency.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 makes it unlawful for an agency to retaliate against a covered federal employee or applicant by taking (or threatening to take) a personnel action because that person disclosed concerns about what was reasonably believed to be a violation of a law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Retaliating against an employee for this type of protected disclosure is considered a “prohibited personnel action.”
In 2012, Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which strengthened the Whistleblower Protection Act by, among other things, broadening the scope of protections offered to employees, expanding remedies available to employees, and expanding employees’ right to appeal unfavorable decisions
If you believe a federal agency has retaliated against you because you made a protected disclosure, the first thing you should do is file a whistleblowing complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent, Executive branch agency which investigates allegations of prohibited personnel practices, prosecutes violators of civil service rules and regulations, and enforces certain other laws. The Office of Special Counsel is tasked with, among other duties, investigating complaints of federal agency whistleblower retaliation. A whistleblower may file a complaint and seek corrective action with the Office of Special Counsel for most personnel actions allegedly based on whistleblowing. If the Office of Special Counsel elects not to take corrective action or does not take action within 120 days, an employee may then file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.
The Merit Systems Protection Board was established as an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the Executive Branch. The MSPB has statutory responsibility for adjudicating individual employee appeals of certain adverse employment actions, including Direct or Individual Right of Action appeals under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Only federal employees who occupy “covered positions” under Title 5 of the United States Code, section 2302 have the right to file an individual right of action appeal with the MSPB. Employees specifically excluded from coverage are those in the Government Accountability Office, the FBI, and various intelligence agencies.
If you believe a federal agency has retaliated against you because you blew the whistle on agency misconduct that falls into at least one of the categories listed above, contact Correia & Puth, PLLC.
Correia & Puth attorneys can represent you every step of the way if you are a covered employee with a claim under the Whistleblower Protection Act. We understand the law and the procedures followed by the OSC and the MSPB. Our experienced attorneys can help you prepare a complaint to file with the OSC, and we can work with OSC investigators to help ask the right questions of Agency officials who engaged in misconduct and/or who were involved in retaliating against you. If the OSC does not pursue corrective action on your behalf, we can also litigate your appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board. As experienced trial lawyers, we understand how to get the information needed to build a strong case and how to best present that case to an administrative judge at a hearing.
For many federal employees and contractors, having an active security clearance means that you can report to your workplace, access the information needed to perform your job duties, and earn a paycheck. Employees with access to classified data or even those who work in close proximity to classified data are required to hold a security clearance. For this reason, clearances are required for a wide range of jobs, from senior management to IT to facilities maintenance and custodial positions. According to a 2014 Washington Post article, over 5.1 million federal agency and contractor employees hold clearances.
Agencies that issue security clearances review responses on an applicant’s Questionnaire for National Security Position (SF86), conduct thorough background checks, and sometimes even require applicants to sit for interviews utilizing polygraph testing devices.
Applicants for security clearance are evaluated on potentially disqualifying and mitigating conditions listed under 13 separate adjudicative guidelines established by executive order and modified by the various issuing federal agencies. An adjudicator is required to consider all aspects of an applicant’s life that are relevant to the question of whether the applicant’s accessing classified or sensitive information poses a risk to national security.
Issuing agencies may deny applicants access to certain types of information or may suspend or revoke an employee’s clearance based on information suggesting that she or he may pose a threat to national security if allowed to access certain classified or sensitive information. Denial, suspension, or revocation of a clearance may lead to termination of employment, especially in situations in which an employee must have a clearance to simply enter a work facility.
If you have been denied a security clearance or have had your eligibility to access certain information suspended or revoked, contact Correia & Puth, PLLC.
Correia & Puth attorneys have experience representing employees seeking clearances or seeking to appeal a suspension or revocation of a clearance. We understand the adjudication process and the criteria federal agency adjudicators consider in determining whether a person should have access to classified or sensitive information. Although there is great pressure on federal employees and contractors to be “perfect” in order to maintain a clearance, we know that nobody’s perfect, and even the most vigilant and patriotic employees make mistakes that could lead to the denial, suspension, or revocation of a clearance. We work to ensure that an adjudicator can consider a complete picture of who an applicant or appellant is – the whole person – before making an eligibility determination.
Over the course of one’s career, a federal employee may be asked to testify in formal proceedings in a number of matters, either as a witness, a complainant, or a subject of an investigation. Where a federal employee participating in an investigation may be subject to disciplinary action or criminal prosecution, the government agency is required to inform the employee of his/her right to refuse to answer incriminating questions. Some employees may be represented by a union and may have the right to have union representation in an investigative interview, but other employees may not.
If you have been asked to testify in an investigative interview and need someone on your side, contact Correia & Puth, PLLC. Correia & Puth attorneys can help prepare you to testify in investigative interviews for the broad variety of matters that you may be asked about in the course of federal employment. In certain situations, it is advisable for an employee to be represented by an attorney in an investigative interview. We have the experience to participate in these interviews to assert your rights and ensure that investigators or interviewers do not overstep the bounds of their authority or violate the law in pursuing their line of questioning.