Federal employment laws protect all employees, whether they work in the public sector or for private companies. As a federal employee, it is easier, in some ways, to exercise your rights. For example, 49 out of 50 states allow at-will employment, where employers can fire workers at any time and for any reason except those explicitly prohibited by law; Montana is the only state that requires employers to provide employment contracts to employees who have worked for the same employer for more than a few months. Public sector employees do not have to worry about their employers firing them on a whim or in a panic about impending financial hardships, since public sector jobs tend to come with an employment contract. Federal employees also receive generous health insurance benefits; they often pay less for healthcare than private sector employees at a considerably higher pay grade. Despite this, employer retaliation, discrimination, and other forms of unfair treatment can happen in any workplace, even at federal agencies. The Philadelphia federal employee lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help government employees resolve disputes with their employers.
Protected Activities and the Legal Protections to Engage in Them
Federal law grants workers the right to engage in legally protected activities. By nature, a protected activity may represent a financial burden to the employer or place the employer at risk of loss of reputation, but it is in the interest of the employees themselves and the public for these protections to be in place. For example, demanding fair pay is a protected activity. This includes hourly compensation of at least the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is highest, and payment for hours worked in the pay period during which the employee quit or was fired. These kinds of disputes are relatively rare for federal employees since they tend to receive a salary as indicated in an employment contract, and it usually averages out to much higher pay than the legal minimum wage.
These are some other legally protected activities that apply to federal employees, as well as to those who work in the private sector:
- Reporting fraud, extortion, and other forms of misconduct to law enforcement or regulatory bodies if misconduct occurs in the workplace
- Reporting safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim about an injury that occurred at work
- Complaining about employment discrimination when it occurs
- Requesting accommodations for a documented disability
- Taking an unpaid leave of absence from work for medical reasons or to care for a sick family member or a newborn or newly adopted or fostered child
- Participating in an investigation into allegations of misconduct or legal violations in the workplace
If an employer takes an adverse action against an employee because of his or her exercise of a legally protected activity, this is called employer retaliation. The retaliation could take the form of termination of employment or demotion, or it could simply be that the employer makes life unpleasant for the employee at work because of bullying, harassment, or excessively close scrutiny.
Filing a Discrimination Complaint
Federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), among others, prohibits employment discrimination based on protected characteristics. Discrimination includes the refusal to hire employees because of a protected characteristic as well as unfair treatment of employees on the basis of a protected characteristic. The following are examples of protected characteristics:
- Race, color, ethnicity, or national origin
- Sex, gender presentation (perceived masculine or feminine appearance or behavior or lack thereof), or professed or perceived sexual orientation
- Religion, sect, creed, or lack of religious belief
- Age, if the employee is at least 40 years old
- Military status
- Marital status, family status, or pregnancy
- Disclosed or perceived disability
Credible allegations of discrimination include a claim that the employee’s protected characteristic was the employer’s motivation (or the motivation for someone in the workplace) to take adverse action against the employee. You do not have an actionable discrimination complaint if you think that your work supervisor does not like you because of your race but you cannot cite anything that your supervisor said or did to lead you to believe this. You must show that your employer took adverse action against you, such as denying your request for a promotion or assigning you to undesirable tasks. A hostile work environment, including derogatory comments and offensive jokes made in your presence or about you, counts as adverse action.
The first step in filing a discrimination complaint against your employer is to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must contact the EEOC within 45 days of the most recent incident of discrimination. Based on your communications with an EEOC counselor, the EEOC will launch an investigation into discrimination in your workplace. If the EEOC determines that you have grounds to sue your employer for discrimination, you may then proceed with a discrimination lawsuit in court.
Employment Laws Specific to Federal Employees
Some federal employees are entitled to have recourse to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). If you have this privilege, the MSPB has probably already notified you of it. If you are MSPB eligible, then you can attempt to resolve your employment discrimination claims or other disputes with your employer through the MSPB instead of or in addition to the EEOC.
Exercising your right to fair treatment at work should be simple, but there are a lot of formalities you must follow, especially if you are an employee of a federal entity. It is never too soon to start talking to an employment lawyer about the problems you are experiencing with your employer and finding ways to resolve them.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Employment Law Services for Federal Employees
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if you are a federal employee and your employer is treating you unfairly. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.