Will You Lose Your Federal Job if You Get Convicted of a Crime?

July 10, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

As an employee of the federal government, you are entitled to several job-related protections. This includes not only the protections that apply to most employees in the private sector but also protections that apply specifically to federal employees.

What does this mean if you work for the federal government and you have been convicted of a crime?

As the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) explains, “You can work for the Federal Government if you have a criminal record.” This is true even if you were formerly incarcerated. However, if you are a current federal employee and you are facing the possibility of incarceration, this could potentially lead to an indefinite suspension or removal.

Your Rights As a Federal Employee When You Get Convicted of a Crime

Unlike most private-sector employers, the federal government can only terminate employees for cause. Additionally, in order to impose a suspension or take any other form of adverse employment action, federal employers must have a reason to do so, and they must go through a formal process that involves providing notice and an opportunity to respond.

Criminal convictions (and even criminal charges) can serve as “cause” for a suspension or removal when they carry the possibility of prison time. As the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) explains:

“[I]f an agency has reason to believe that an employee has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment may be imposed . . . the employee can be removed in as little as seven (7) days. . . . If the agency would prefer not to have the employee at work or even in a pay status pending resolution of the criminal matter, then the agency can opt to indefinitely suspend the employee (without pay) while the agency waits for the criminal matter to be resolved. In such cases, the . . . agency still retains the option to remove the employee later for the underlying conduct. The indefinite suspension without pay pending resolution of a criminal matter is considered a separate personnel action from a removal for the underlying criminal conduct and each type of action follows different rules.”

As you can see from this summary, criminal convictions (and criminal charges) can serve as grounds for removal of federal employees in cases involving prison time (or possible prison time). But what if you got convicted and were able to avoid prison time? Can you still lose your federal job in this scenario?

The answer to this question depends on the circumstances involved. Even if a conviction for off-duty criminal conduct does not result in prison time, it may still serve as grounds for disciplinary action if there is a “nexus” between the criminal conduct and your job-related duties. This nexus can exist in three scenarios:

  • The Crime Involved “Egregious” Circumstances – Violent crimes, sexual misconduct with minors and various other types of offenses are considered so egregious that they create a rebuttable presumption of a nexus that warrants disciplinary action (up to and including removal).
  • The Crime Adversely Affects Your or Your Coworkers’ Job Performance or Your Agency’s Trust and Confidence in Your Job Performance – Crimes that are deemed to adversely affect a federal employee’s job performance, his or her coworkers’ job performance, or the employing agency’s trust and confidence in his or her job performance can also justify disciplinary action. Examples of crimes that may fall into this category include (but are not limited to) threats against coworkers or supervisors, fraud, failure to pay taxes, and misuse of government funds.
  • Your Criminal Conduct Interferes with or Adversely Affects Your Agency’s Mission – If an employee’s criminal conduct is determined to interfere with or adversely affect his or her agency’s mission, this can justify disciplinary action as well. Theft, fraud, terroristic threats, and crimes resulting in negative publicity for the agency are non-exclusive examples of crimes that may fall into this category.

Additionally, there are certain crimes that disqualify those convicted from federal employment—or at least employment in certain federal positions. For example, as the OPM states, treason carries a “lifelong ban on federal employment,” and convictions for misdemeanor domestic violent crimes can result in a prohibition on employment “in any position requiring the individual: to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition.”

Fighting to Protect Your Federal Job After a Criminal Conviction

While getting convicted of a crime can mean losing your federal job, removal is not automatic. There are processes your agency must follow (although these processes are expedited in some cases), and you have the opportunity to fight to protect your federal employment—as long as you act in time. The specific steps you need to take depend on your agency, your position and various other factors. To make sure you have every opportunity to protect your federal job, you should speak with a federal employment lawyer as soon as possible.

If You Get Fired for a Crime, Will You Lose Your Federal Retirement Benefits?

In addition to having concerns about their jobs, many federal employees who get convicted of crimes also have concerns about their federal retirement benefits. So, if you have been convicted of a crime, will you lose your pension?

Under 5 U.S.C. Section 8312, federal employees can lose their retirement benefits as a result of certain convictions enumerated in the statute. These include (but are not limited to) convictions for:

  • Disclosure of classified information
  • Federal perjury
  • Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information
  • Insurrection, seditious conspiracy and advocating the overthrow of the government
  • Treason, espionage, enlisting to serve against the United States and aiding the enemy

Request a Confidential Consultation with a Federal Employment Lawyer Today

Have you been convicted of a crime while working as an employee of the federal government? If so, we can explain everything you need to know, and we can help you make informed decisions about your next steps. To arrange a confidential consultation at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford as soon as possible, call 410-514-6099 or tell us how we can reach you online today.