The Office of Special Counsel keeps federal agencies in check by holding them accountable for practices that violate the employment rights and civil rights of federal employees.
In its recap of Fiscal Year 2017, the OSC highlighted successful resolution of complaints about whistleblower retaliation, prohibited selection practices and other abuses.
Actions against federal whistleblower retaliation
In the fiscal year just ended in June, the OSC received more than 3,800 new complaints of Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPP). The highest number of cases that were favorably resolved involved whistleblower retaliation, which are top priority for the Office of Special Counsel.
Here are a sampling of whistleblower cases from the OSC’s FY 2017 report:
- An employee was severely demoted after reporting suspected theft by an agency official. The OSC obtained a formal stay of the adverse action, and eventually she was reinstated with back pay plus compensatory damages. Facing suspension and reassignment, the official resigned from service.
- An employee who raised red flags about overtime abuse was reassigned to menial work and received a poor performance appraisal. OSC intervention resulted in significant restoration: back pay and damages, an increased appraisal rating and rescission of Letters of Counseling.
- A supervisor was subjected to a hostile work environment and a lowered appraisal after disclosing widespread corruption in her agency. The complaint to OSC resulted in full corrective action on her behalf, plus suspension for one official and suspension and demotion of another official.
- An employee was slated for demotion and the dismantling of her program for disclosing that wait times for new patients were falsified. The OSC found no grounds for the adverse action. She maintained her position and program, and received substantial compensatory damages.
The retaliation list goes on. Revealing contract fraud. Calling attention to security lapses. Assisting union members in filing grievances. Affiliating with a known whistleblower. In each case, supervisors or high-level officials tried to punish or intimidate the whistleblower.
Prohibited practices in hiring, assignment and advancement
Another big category of OSC complaints is improper selection, failure to promote and related employment practices. Here are a few more success stories:
- A supervisor who sat on an interview panel provided a favored applicant with the questions — and suggested answers — in advance. The supervisor received a 14-day suspension.
- Two deputy assistant directors were asked to withdraw from consideration for advancement. When they declined, the vacancies were re-posted with new qualifications that the candidates did not possess. The OSC obtained a stay against the rigged hiring actions and took disciplinary action against the upper officials.
- A supervisor who didn’t want to lose a valued employee to a different division promised a promotion in exchange for withdrawing from consideration for the other job. The promotion never happened. In a settlement, the employee was granted a promotion and back pay.
Not every PPP case ends so well for employees
The importance of legal counsel cannot be overstated. The OSC does not always side with the aggrieved employee or reach a favorable outcome. At the first sign of trouble, especially if your employment status or security clearance is in jeopardy, speak with an attorney who specializes in federal employment law.
There is a right way and a wrong way to assert your rights and seek redress. Depending on your agency and your circumstances, your case may proceed through the OSC, the MSPB, the EEOC or another investigatory body.