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Proposed federal employee rights changes worth attention

The current civil service system is in place because Congress recognizes that politics has a way of eroding the delivery of effective services. The system also includes provisions for protecting government workers in California and elsewhere against unjust disciplinary actions.

Regardless of the level of job an employee holds, due-process rules are meant to provide workers a way of fighting back and protecting their careers and their livelihoods. Changes in the system don't come often or easily, but there is now a movement underway in the House that would cut into the due-process rights of those in the government's Senior Executive Service.

Some observers point to actions by Congress about 18 months ago as the first step in the effort. In response to outrage over the fact that Veterans Administration executives had been covering up delays in delivering services to veterans, Congress approved changes to make it easier for the agency to remove underperforming leaders.

Those same observers say the next step in the effort happened this week when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a proposal that would make it easier to fire executive level federal employees across all agencies.

Provisions in the bill would allow for a firing or demotion for misconduct or bad performance with just five days notice. Avenues for appealing to the Merit Systems Protection Board would be greatly limited. Many federal workers would also face a two-year probationary period, rather than the current one-year period.

Supporters, generally Republicans, say the action is needed to restore the public's trust and improve tax dollar stewardship. Opponents, generally Democrats, say the goal of improving senior executive accountability is a good one, but not at the expense of workers' due- process rights.

This measure is quite a ways away from enactment. It might never become law. In the meantime, federal workers can obtain the protections available under current law by consulting with attorneys skilled in employment law.