How Do You Report a Prohibited Personnel Practice (PPP)?

March 24, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Federal employees are entitled to several protections. These include protection against prohibited personnel practices (PPPs). If you have experienced a PPP as a federal employee, you have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

But you may have other rights as well. While the OSC can provide certain remedies to federal employees who experience prohibited personnel practices, in some cases affected employees are entitled to additional remedies—including financial compensation. As a result, if you are thinking about reporting a PPP, we strongly recommend that you discuss your situation with a lawyer who has experience representing federal employees in these matters.

Overview: Reporting a Prohibited Personnel Practice to the OSC

With this caveat in mind, here is an overview of what federal employees need to know about reporting a prohibited personnel practice to the OSC:

What Constitutes a Prohibited Personnel Practice (PPP)?

As the OSC explains, PPPs are “employment-related activities that are banned in the federal workforce because they violate the merit system through some form of employment discrimination, retaliation, improper hiring practices, or [other employment-related] failure.” As the OSC goes on to explain, all PPPs fall into one of 14 categories:

  • Discrimination
  • Considering Inappropriate Recommendations
  • Coercing Political Activity
  • Obstructing Competition
  • Influencing Withdrawal from Competition
  • Granting Unauthorized Advantage
  • Nepotism
  • Whistleblower Retaliation
  • Other Retaliation
  • Other Discrimination
  • Veterans Preference
  • Violating Rules that Implement a Merit System Principle
  • Imposing a Nondisclosure Agreement that Doesn’t Allow Whistleblowing
  • Accessing Medical Records in Furtherance of Another PPP

If you have been negatively affected by any of these prohibited personnel practices, then you may have grounds to file a complaint with the OSC—provided that you are an eligible federal employee.

What Federal Employees are Eligible to Report a PPP?

Not all federal employees are eligible to report prohibited personnel practices to the OSC. If you are not eligible to file a report, you still have options—filing a PPP report just isn’t one of them. Eligible federal employees include “most employees, applicants for employment, and former federal employees in executive branch agencies and the Government Printing Office.” Some examples of federal employees who are not eligible to report prohibited personnel practices to the OSC are:

  • Employees of the legislative and judicial branches
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employees
  • Government Accountability Office (GAO) employees
  • Members of the uniformed military
  • National Guard, Air Reserve Technicians, and Army Reserve Technicians (except those whose civilian positions have been converted to Title 5​)
  • Postal Regulatory Commission employees
  • United States Postal Service (USPS) employees (except in cases involving “nepotism or arbitrary and capricious withholding under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)”)

Again, if you fall into any of these categories, this does not mean that you are without options. Prohibited personnel practices may violate a host of federal employment laws, and these laws protect covered federal employees regardless of whether they are eligible to file a report with the OSC.

How Can Eligible Federal Employees Report PPPs?

Reporting a prohibited personnel practice starts with filing OSC Form 14. Currently, the OSC is only accepting electronic filings through its website. As the OSC’s website notes, federal employees have the option of submitting a letter or other document detailing their complaint, but if they do, they must still submit a signed Form 14, as the OSC “cannot consider a complaint without a copy of Form 14.” Federal employees who are filing PPP complaints can submit supporting exhibits as well, and it will typically make sense to do so.

What Happens After You Report a PPP to the OSC?

Once you properly submit a PPP complaint, the OSC will review your complaint and supporting documentation. The purpose of this review is to determine “whether there is enough evidence to show that a PPP likely has been, or will be, committed.” After completing this review, the OSC will either: (i) decide not to take further action based on a lack of evidence or (ii) proceed with the next steps in the process.

If the OSC determines that your complaint does not include enough evidence to warrant further action, it will notify you in writing. As the OSC notes, “[i]n most cases, this decision is not final.” If the decision is not final, you will have the opportunity to submit additional evidence or raise any issues with the OSC’s determination.

If the OSC determines that further action is warranted, it will notify you and continue to investigate. Importantly, federal employees have the option to ask the OSC to delay or reverse any adverse employment actions during the investigative process. As the OSC explains:

“If OSC has reasonable grounds to believe that the personnel action is the result of a PPP, OSC may ask the agency involved to delay, or in some cases reverse and delay, implementation of the personnel action. If the agency does not agree, OSC may then file a legal request for a stay of the personnel action with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).”

Based on the outcome of its investigation, the OSC may recommend mediation, or it may seek to take corrective action directly. This corrective action typically involves “seek[ing] to place a complainant in the position they would have occupied if no wrongdoing occurred.” While this may be an adequate remedy in some cases, as noted above, federal employees who experience harassment, discrimination and other adverse employment actions may be entitled to financial compensation as well.

Discuss Your Legal Rights with a Lawyer Who Represents Federal Employees

While federal employees have the option of reporting a PPP on their own, it will usually make sense to seek help from a lawyer who represents federal employees. Our lawyers represent federal employees in OSC complaints, MSPB complaints, harassment and discrimination claims, and other federal employment matters. If you believe that you have experienced or been negatively affected by a prohibited personnel practice, we can help, and we encourage you to contact us for more information. Call 410-514-6099 or send us a message online to schedule a confidential consultation today.