What is the Difference Between an Adverse Action and a Disciplinary Action?

September 28, 2022
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Disciplinary spelled with blocks

As a federal employee, accusations of job-related misconduct can have serious consequences. While federal employees enjoy strong job-related protections, these protections are not absolute. Federal employees can lose their jobs for misconduct in some cases, and even if allegations of misconduct do not warrant removal, they can still lead to suspensions, demotions and other penalties.

When accused of job-related misconduct as a federal employee, it is critical to make sure you know the nature of the action you are facing: Are you facing adverse action or disciplinary action? While many federal employees assume these two terms are interchangeable, this is not the case. Adverse actions and disciplinary actions present different risks—and they require different defense strategies.

What Is an “Adverse Action” in Federal Employment?

In the federal employment sector, adverse actions are the more serious forms of punishment for job-related misconduct. There are three primary forms of “adverse action” for U.S. government employees under federal law:

  • Suspensions Lasting More Than 14 Days – A suspension of more than 14 days is considered an adverse action. Federal employees facing these suspensions are entitled to at least 30 days’ advance written notice.
  • Reduction in Grade (Demotion) or Pay – Reductions in grade (demotions) and reductions in pay are forms of adverse action that federal employers can impose for various forms of misconduct.
  • Removal (Termination of Employment) – In cases involving serious misconduct, federal employees can face removal or termination of their employment. This is also classified as an adverse action under federal employment laws.

What Is a “Disciplinary Action” in Federal Employment?

Federal employers can impose “disciplinary action” in cases involving misconduct that does not warrant more-serious adverse action. But, in some cases, federal employers will use disciplinary actions to lay the groundwork for future adverse actions against their employees. Forms of disciplinary action in the federal employment system include:

  • Oral or Written Counseling – Counseling is a lesser form of disciplinary action that is typically reserved for isolated and minor infractions.
  • Letters of Reprimand – A letter of reprimand is a more serious form of discipline than counseling that goes into the federal employee’s file.
  • Suspensions Lasting 14 Days or Less – Suspensions lasting 14 days or less are considered a form of disciplinary action, and, unlike longer suspensions, the government can provide as little as 24 hours’ notice.

Regardless of whether you are facing adverse action or disciplinary action (which could increase your risk of facing adverse action in the future), it is important that you discuss your situation with an attorney promptly. There are many ways to defend against allegations of misconduct, and even if your attorney cannot protect you from adverse action or disciplinary action entirely, your attorney may still be able to help mitigate the action and protect your federal employment.

Contact Us for a Confidential Consultation

If you are facing adverse action or disciplinary action as a federal employee, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To schedule a confidential consultation as soon as possible, call 410-514-6099 or get in touch online now.