Can a Federal Employee Lawyer Help to Save Your Career?

Can a Federal Employee Lawyer Help to Save Your Career?
  • Are you a federal employee who has suffered discrimination because of your race, gender, age, or disability?

  • Have you been punished because you're a whistleblower who dared to speak up about waste, fraud, or abuse?
  • Do you face an unfair investigation, PIP, discipline, adverse action, or removal?
  • Is your government career — or your retirement — in danger because of bias and retaliation?

A consultation with a good federal employment attorney is the first step toward fighting back.

Federal employees have powerful rights under many anti-discrimination laws. Government whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for reporting discrimination, and for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse. Thanks to these protections, civil servants who have been treated unfairly can get their careers back on track and refocus on the real mission: Public service.

Getting justice can be complicated, however. Federal employees must follow special procedures, with different deadlines and administrative requirements than private-sector workers. Claims must pass through certain channels, with decisions being rendered at various stages by the employee's agency or a body such as the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Government employees often try to navigate these multi-tiered systems by themselves — but it's a real challenge. Having a competent guide is a good idea, especially if your federal career is on the line.

People ask us:

The federal employment attorneys at The Employment Law Group® law firm have decades of experience representing federal workers in a broad range of cases, including claims of discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and whistleblowing. Our firm frequently argues before the MSPB, the EEOC, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), various Offices of the Inspector General (OIG), and federal courts.

Before the MSPB, for instance, our civil service lawyers helped a government employee to prove that she faced retaliation — including a missed promotion — because of her efforts to keep patients safe. In another example, our law firm established that a federal whistleblower was protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act without needing to prove that the behavior he reported was illegal.

And TELG attorneys have won default judgment against government agencies that failed to respond properly to employee complaints — an illustration of the value of having a savvy lawyer on your side.

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Important statutes in this area of law:

Notable TELG cases in this area of law:

  • Drake v. USAID

    This case established that a whistleblower under the Whistleblower Protection Act does not need to prove that he disclosed an actual violation of the law, but instead that he had a reasonable belief that there was a violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

  • O’Neill v. Department of Veterans Affairs

    TELG Client Courtney O’Niell is a nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at the Baltimore VA Hospital. She made repeated disclosures about patient safety and suffered retaliation.


  • Sticha v. Salazar

    TELG client Jennifer Sticha won default judgment against agency after agency failed to respond to Sticha’s complaint.

If federal employees win a claim for discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, they may be entitled to reinstatement if they've been wrongly terminated; to adjustment of their classification; to a change in duties or location; to compensation for harm to their career; and to attorneys’ fees.

As with all legal claims, deadlines are crucial. This is especially true for government service, where an unchallenged demotion or reprimand may hurt your entire career. Deadlines for federal employees are often much shorter than those for private sector employees, with some deadlines as short as 45 days. Do not delay in contacting an attorney if you believe you have suffered wrongdoing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What workplace rights do federal employees have?

There are some exceptions — often connected with military service or national security concerns — but in general federal employees have the same basic rights as other American workers.

Certain laws have been written especially to protect government workers, and may offer clearer rights than are available to some private sector employees: The Whistleblower Protection Act is a good example.

In other cases, federal workers are protected by a law that’s very similar to a statute covering the general workplaces — and in many more cases, the exact same laws apply to all workers, regardless of their employer.

Employees of the federal government also may benefit from fact that the U.S. president is their boss and can offer protections that might not be approved by Congress for all workers: President Obama’s decision to ban discrimination against federal employees on the basis of gender identity is a good example.

As experienced federal employee lawyers, the attorneys at The Employment Law Group® law firm know which protections apply in various situations — and which legal strategies have the strongest chance of success.

EEOC Attorneys for Federal Employees

Just like most legal claims, deadlines are extremely important. In most jurisdictions, employees have either 180 or 300 days to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Federal government employees need to be aware that their deadlines can often be much shorter — even merely a few weeks after the adverse employment action occurred.

Common reasons used by agencies for discipline or termination?

Agencies may discipline an employee “only for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service.” The agency has the burden of proof to show that its action meets this standard. There is no requirement that an employee must have violated a specific written policy, but the agency must provide a rational basis for discipline — and substantial evidence to support its position. Common reasons for discipline include:

  • Unapproved Absenteeism or Tardiness: Chronic absenteeism and tardiness account for the largest number of adverse actions in federal government.
  • Refusal to Accept Reassignment: The government has broad discretion to reassign employees to different locations and duties.
  • Conflict of Interest: Federal employees must avoid situations that compromise, or even give the appearance of compromising, their duties as agents of the government.
  • Failure to Maintain a Condition of Employment:  For example, your job may require a security clearance or a certain professional license.

Categories of federal employment — and how do they affect rights?

There are five general categories of federal employment:

Competitive Service

The system under which applicants for positions must compete with other applicants under the merit system administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). An employee with competitive status may be transferred or promoted without having to compete with other applicants, however.

Excepted Service

These positions fall outside the competitive service either by statute, executive order, or OPM action. Unlike an employee in competitive service, an excepted-service employee cannot move between agencies without going through the OPM hiring process. Examples of excepted organizations within the federal workforce include the U.S. Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Senior Executive Service (SES)

These are non-presidential appointed positions, primarily managerial and supervisory jobs. Senate confirmation is not required. SES positions correspond to flag officers in the military (e.g., generals and admirals).

Political Appointments

Certain appointed positions have been excepted from the competitive service by reason of their confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character.

Title 38 Employees

Medical professionals who work at federal agencies such as the Veterans Health Administration or National Institute of Health are usually appointed under Title 38 of the United States Code. The rights of Title 38 employees differ significantly from other federal employees. (Our firm represents many Title 38 employees)

Which federal employees can appeal adverse actions to the MSPB?

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) hears appeals in the case of a removal, a suspension for more than 14 days, a reduction in grade, a reduction in pay, or a furlough of 30 days or less “for cause that will promote the efficiency of the service.” Federal employees with a right to be heard include:

  • Employees in the competitive service who are not serving a probationary or trial period under an initial appointment, or have completed one year of current continuous service under other than a temporary appointment limited to one year or less;
  • preference employees eligible in the excepted service who have completed one year of current continuous service in the same or similar positions in an executive agency, or in the U.S. Postal Service or Postal Rate Commission; and
  • individuals in the excepted service who are not serving a probationary or trial period under an initial appointment pending conversion to the competitive service, or who have completed two years of current continuous service in the same or similar positions in an executive agency under other than a temporary appointment limited to two years or less.

Yes, a bit confusing. Our whistleblower attorneys can help determine whether it applies to you.

I’m a probationary employee. Do I have the right to appeal an adverse employment action?

It depends on the action and the reason behind it. A probationary employee may appeal certain actions based on:

  • Past service.
  • Improper motivation, including political partisanship, marital status, and past or present military service.
  • Past service.
  • An individual right of action, prohibited personnel practice complaint, or the provisions of various civil rights laws.