Our Maryland Federal Employment Lawyers are Here to Enforce Your Rights 

As you might imagine, your Maryland federal employee rights are very similar to employees in the private sector. For the most part, both public and private employees enjoy protections against discrimination, retaliation and harassment. But in many situations, federal employees receive additional rights. And in a few situations, they receive fewer rights. Fully understanding these differences will sometimes require contacting a law firm that has experience protecting Maryland federal employee rights. One such firm is the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford.

Federal Employees Have Rights that Private-Sector Employees Do Not Have

As a federal employee, you sometimes have employment rights that many employees in private industry do not enjoy. This is true in a variety of situations.

Protection Against Discrimination 

First, most federal employees cannot be discriminated against based on their marital status or political activities. Under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA), discrimination based on these factors constitutes a prohibited personnel practice.

Protection Against Self-Incrimination

Second, federal employees have some rights against self-incrimination. Often referred to as “Garrity rights” after the Supreme Court case that helped create them, a public employer cannot use the threat of termination as a means to coerce employees to make self-incriminating statements during an employer investigation.

If a federal employer were to make such a threat, it would constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. What happens instead is that the employer will inform the employee of his or her Garrity rights which remind the employee that they can keep the job if they do not answer the question.

However, the employee may be told that with respect to the investigation, the employer can create a negative inference from the employee’s silence. In other words, the employer can conclude that the employee’s decision not to answer a question implies that what they have to say would implicate them in some sort of wrongdoing.

Private-sector employees do not have this right. There is no federal law that stops an employer from conducting an internal investigation and telling an employee that if they do not answer a question from the investigator, they are fired.

First Amendment Protection 

Third, federal employees have First Amendment rights within the employment context. Generally speaking, a private employer can restrict an employee’s speech without violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is because the First Amendment only applies to government action, not private action. So a private employer can punish an employee for saying something the employer doesn’t like without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

But because federal employees work for the government, they get to have First Amendment rights, with some limitations. After all, the federal government also needs the ability to manage its workplace and its employees. But if the following two conditions are met, a federal employee will usually enjoy protected speech:

  1. The speech involves an issue of public concern.
  2. The speech does not unreasonably interfere with the employer’s need to carry out its mission.

One caveat to the greater free speech protections for federal employees relates to the Hatch Act of 1939. This law restricts executive branch federal employees’ right to engage in certain political activities.

The purpose of this law is to avoid the carrying out of government functions in a way that comes across as political. For example, the Hatch Act aims to reduce the chance of an employee having to face political pressure at work or obtain professional advancement based on political beliefs.

But before you get too worried, the Hatch Act will usually only limit political activities that occur while on duty or when acting in your official government capacity. It also doesn’t restrict your right to political speech on your own time, such as making a post on your personal social media account while at home.

Special Considerations for Termination

Fourth, at-will employment is far more limited in federal government. In most states, private employees are employed “at-will,” which means they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. The only exceptions apply if the firing is due to a violation of law or go against public policy.

During the probationary period, which usually lasts one year for new federal hires, federal employees are basically at-will employees. But once they make it past the probationary period, they can usually only be fired for cause. Most often, this will be due to poor performance, workplace misconduct or a combination of both.

Private Employees Have Greater Rights than Federal Employees

Besides the Hatch Act of 1939, which can limit the political activities of a federal employee from the executive branch, one other major example where private employees enjoy greater rights than their federal counterparts is with collective bargaining.

The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS) grants most federal employees the right to collectively bargain. The FSLMRS allows non-postal service federal employees the option of choosing their own labor organizations to help them bargain collectively (in case you’re wondering, the Postal Reorganization Act deals with the labor rights of postal employees).

The FSLMRS is quite different than its private-sector counterpart, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). These differences exist in two primary ways.

First, the FSLMRS only grants the right to collectively bargain concerning “conditions of employment.” This means that federal employees can’t collectively bargain to get better wages or benefits.

Second, federal employees cannot strike or take other forms of concerted action.

What to Do If Your Federal Employee Rights Have Been Violated

If you believe your rights as a federal employee have been violated, there are things you can do, such as filing a complaint or charge. But where you file this complaint will depend on your particular problem.

If you believe you are the victim of discrimination, you’ll generally need to report it to the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counselor at your agency. From there, you may need to go through the EEO Complaint process.

If you believe you are the victim of a prohibited personnel practice, such as being wrongfully punished due to alleged misconduct, performance problems or whistleblower retaliation, then you may need to take up your concerns with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

If you think your employer infringed on your collective bargaining rights, then filing a case with the U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority may be necessary.

Finally, you might need to sue your employer in federal court. Often, you will not be able to do this until you exhaust your administrative remedies, such as notifying your EEO Counselor and trying to resolve your problem with your federal employer through the EEO Complaint process.

Regardless of which path you need to take, you might want to get the help of an experienced federal employee rights attorney first. They can help you through the process and make sure you take full advantage of what the law has to offer.

Do You Need to Get In Touch With a Maryland Federal Employee Rights Lawyer?

Your rights as a Maryland federal employee are important. If you believe your employer or a coworker has violated your rights, don’t be afraid to take action. But before you do, it’s a good idea to get a better grasp of how your rights have been violated and what you can do in response.

An experienced Maryland federal employee rights lawyer can help you with this process. To get started, contact the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, either online or by telephone at 410-514-6099.