Q & A Session: Letter from Congress considered official notice of OPM retirement decision?

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Q: In November 2013, I sent my local US Representative a Privacy Act Release and with a letter, I asked him to send to OPM for a letter regarding my retirement.  I did not receive a response to that letter.  I subsequently sent him additional letters to send OPM.  In these letters to OPM, I specifically stated for them to send all correspondences to me regarding my retirement.  I had been trying to get OPM to issue decisions on the type of retirement and other annuity issues.  I know once you received a decision from OPM you only have 30…

Q & A Session: Term Status Position to Permanent Status Position

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Q: Are disciplinary actions, such as letters of warning, carried over once you are converted to permanent status from a term status position? Or are you afforded a clean slate? A: Letters of warning (and letters of counseling) are not considered disciplinary actions.  That being said, the purpose of a letter of warning is to inform employees of what the agency’s rules and policies are on a given matter, and to inform the employee that if the rules are violated in the future, an actual disciplinary action could be taken.  In the future, if you are accused of violating the…

Q & A Session: Pleading the 5th during an interview with OIG/management

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Q: Can a federal employee plead the 5th rather than say “I didn’t do it” or “I don’t know” in an interview with the Office of the Inspector General or management? A: In an interview, you can state that you do not remember, or that you do not know the answer to the question whenever that answer would be truthful, but it must be the truth. Regarding your question about when you have a right to remain silent pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment states that:  “No Person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be…

Be mindful of gift-giving rules

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I’d be remiss in my role as the columnist charged with offering legal advice to readers if I did not close 2014 with advice on the obtuse and cumbersome rules governing gift-giving. So, to do so, I went back to a column written by Bill Bransford, my predecessor columnist. By way of introduction, I remind readers that the rules governing gift-giving by or to executive branch employees are issued by the Office of Government Ethics. Those regulations are complex, cumbersome, with generally stated prohibitions followed by lists of exceptions. And yes, Congress is exempt from these rules. You can find…

What to consider when filing a grievance

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Federal workers are fortunate. They have several legally defined processes available to them to complain about workplace treatment, theoretically free from reprisal. Most employees in the private sector have none. For complaints made by employees in the private sector regarding hours of work, office location, a work assignment, or a colleague or supervisor who is treating you disrespectfully, the usual response is: “If you’re not happy here, you can leave.” Feds have multiple processes and forums to lodge workplace complaints. One such process, the administrative grievance process, has been viewed poorly by feds in the past. But I think it…

Q & A Session: Timeframe for a Security Clearance

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Q: I’ve been waiting three weeks for a Department of Defense (“DoD”) DOS Security Clearance/Secret. Is this a normal amount of time? A: Three weeks is not an unusual length of time for a Department of Defense (“DoD”) security clearance adjudication. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (“IRTPA”) of 2004 required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (“ODNI”) to annually report on the processing times for security clearances through February 2011. As part of its IRTPA Annual Report for 2010, the final and most recent ODNI issued under IRTPA, ODNI reported the average initiation, investigation, and adjudication processing…

Settlement agreements: Be clear and specific

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If you work in the arena of labor-employment relations or are a manager or supervisor, then you’ve likely had to negotiate a settlement with an employee who filed some sort of claim in connection with his or her employment. If the negotiations are successful, the terms are reduced to a written instrument. When the agreement is finally signed by both parties, it often brings a sense of relief to each side that the litigation has been resolved. But buyer beware. Even after years of litigation before the Merit Systems Protection Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, agencies still enter into…

Q & A Session: Doctor Appointments

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Q: My supervisor asked me for a doctor’s note that includes the time I arrived at the doctor’s office and the time I departed the doctor’s office on the day of my scheduled appointment. Am I required to provide this information? A: Office of Personnel Management regulations on sick leave permit agencies to require employees to submit administratively acceptable evidence. Generally, an employee’s self-certification can serve as administratively acceptable evidence. But, agencies can require a doctor’s note or other medical evidence for absences in excess of three days or after placement on a leave restriction letter. Employees should consult their…

Settlements and DSR eligibility

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If you read the recent Merit Systems Protection Board decision reversing the Office of Personnel Management’s denial of discontinued service retirement (DSR) to a Department of Interior employee, and you think you’ve got the green light to use a settlement agreement to create a circumstance by which an employee may become DSR eligible, I say beware of the yellow light. Proceed cautiously, as it appears OPM will be appealing this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and how the court of appeals decides this case is by no means certain. This case involved an employee…

Q & A Session: Losing an Annuity Due To Marijuana Use

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Q: Can a CSRS retiree lose his or her annuity if they start using medical marijuana under the supervision of a neurologist in Colorado where medical marijuana is legal? A: No, a retired federal employee receiving an annuity cannot lose that annuity because of marijuana use.  You may be worried about the possibility of losing your annuity because although some marijuana use is legal in Colorado, the federal government views your medicinal use of marijuana to be unlawful.  However, there is no real risk to your previously earned annuity.  Use of marijuana is not codified in federal statute as a…

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