Understanding Your Legal Rights as a VA Employee
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the largest federal agency by far. With more than 330,000 employees, the VA accounts for 16.3 percent of the federal workforce according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, surpassing even the Army and Navy by tens of thousands of employees.
In short, if you work for the VA and have questions about your legal rights, you are not alone.
Like all federal agencies, the VA is required to comply with numerous laws and regulations that govern its employment practices. These laws and regulations provide VA employees with clear legal rights—including rights related to hiring, promotions, job assignments, discipline and termination. If you work for the VA, it is important to know your rights; and if you believe that the VA has violated your rights, you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
What Are Your Legal Rights as a VA Employee?
So, what are your legal rights as a VA employee? Like all federal employees, you are entitled to protections under the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, a variety of statutes, and a laundry list of federal regulations that apply both across the board and to your agency specifically.
Here is just a small sampling of your legal rights when you work for the VA:
1. Equal Opportunity and a Workplace Free of Discrimination
As a VA employee (or a job applicant with the VA), you are entitled to equal employment opportunities. When hiring and making decisions related to job placement and promotion, the VA cannot legally consider your race, color, sex, gender identity or any other personal characteristic that is “protected” under federal law.
Federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Rehabilitation Act also prohibit the VA from discriminating in other aspects of employment. If you believe that you have been denied an opportunity or treated differently because of any protected characteristic, you should talk to a lawyer about the options you have available.
2. A Workplace Free of Harassment
Title VII and other laws also prohibit harassment in the federal employment sector. This includes but is not limited to, sexual harassment involving a hostile work environment or quid pro quo. Harassment is considered a form of discrimination, and VA employees who experience harassment at work can—and should—take appropriate legal action.
3. Reasonable Accommodations for Qualifying Disabilities and Religious Beliefs
Like most private employers and nearly all federal agencies, the VA must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them. Reasonable accommodations broadly fall into two categories: (i) those for qualifying disabilities; and (ii) those for religious beliefs. If you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation and the VA fails to provide it, you can hire a lawyer to help you enforce your rights—whether by forcing the VA to provide a reasonable accommodation or seeking other remedies.
4. Equal Pay and Overtime
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), VA employees are entitled to equal pay for substantially equal work. They are also entitled to overtime pay (if they are non-exempt employees), as well as various other protections related to compensation and benefits. If you work for the VA and you have been denied equal pay or overtime, you may be entitled to back pay and additional forms of financial compensation.
5. Job-Protected Leave for Qualifying Absences
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is another federal statute that provides important job-related protections to VA employees. If you qualify for FMLA leave, you cannot be terminated for exercising your statutory rights, and you are entitled to job restoration (or placement in a substantially similar position) unless the VA terminates your employment for a lawful reason during your FMLA absence.
6. Freedom from Employment-Related Retaliation
As a VA employee, you cannot legally be fired for reporting fraud, waste or abuse (FWA) or for exercising your legal rights. Federal employees (including VA employees) are protected from employment-related retaliation in various other circumstances as well. While there are some exceptions, the anti-retaliation protections for federal employees are fairly broad; and if you believe that you are a victim of retaliation, you should consult with a lawyer promptly.
7. Freedom from Wrongful Termination
Similar to other federal agencies, the VA is restricted in its ability to terminate its employees. Federal employees enjoy substantial protections—far greater than those in the private sector—and the VA must generally take a series of steps before terminating someone’s employment. If you have recently lost your job with the VA, or if you are concerned that your manager or supervisor may be trying to fire you, you should consult with a lawyer promptly in this scenario as well.
When Can You Lose Your Job with the VA?
While VA employees enjoy substantial job protections, there are certain circumstances in which the VA can terminate its employees’ positions. If termination is unwarranted, the VA may also impose various other forms of discipline such as demotion, furlough, reassignment and suspension. For example, as a VA employee, you might be at risk for termination or discipline if:
- You are still in the probationary period of your employment;
- You engage in misconduct;
- You receive poor performance reviews; or,
- You misrepresent your qualifications when applying for a job with the VA.
But, while these are all potential grounds for termination or discipline, you should never assume that adverse employment action is justified as a VA employee. Before you make any decisions, you should speak with a lawyer who can advise you with your best interests in mind.
Schedule a Confidential Consultation at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford
The lawyers at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford represent federal employees in all types of employment-related matters. If you have questions or concerns about your legal rights as an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, we can help, and we encourage you to call 410-709-7338 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.