Q & A Session – Illegal Pay Grade Increases and Hiring Spouses


Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.


Recently, a number of federal employees in my organization had their positions upgraded without advertising for their jobs and some even received large pay increases. Others were able to get their spouses hired, with one going through a direct hire without advertising the position. Do these actions violate any merit principles or federal employment laws? If they are illegal, who do I report it to?


You have described actions that could be illegal favoritism or nepotism, both of which are prohibited personnel practices. Inspector Generals and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel investigate prohibited personnel practices. Whether the actions you describe are actually illegal depends on additional facts to be developed.

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw, Bransford & Roth, PC.

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  1. This type of action happens all the time in the Agencies of the Federal Government. The HR people that are to be the first line watch dogs turn a blind eye out of self preservation, and the IG’s and OSC only investigate the highest of profile cases. To answer this, when was the last time you ever heard of Nepotism being prosecuted and employees being removed under 75 action for Nepotism and the recoupment of illegal wages, etc.? Further, the more means that are allowed for Direct Hire authoritites outside of Veterans authorizations, the more you see this type of action. Just look and see how many STEP and SCEP hires are releatives of the employees at the organization they are hired to work at. Look closely at how many Direct hires have relatives working at the Agency. Having relatives working for the Federal Organization has turned into a selective placement factor, end of statement.

  2. I am direct by the Norfolk District to PCS to another location 2hours from my house.

    Several Construction Rep. living in the cummuniting are have volunteer for that position, however it was disapproved they are begin moved to Wallops island another unfunded non volunteer PCS, which was a 2year TDY 2months ago.

    I have asked the union for assistance.

  3. To counter Mr. Bransford’s somewhat prejudicial and one-sided comments:

    “Large pay increases” is a phrase with a lot of wiggle room. Remember that a step increase is an allowable incentive under federal law as a performance incentive for outstanding performers. Until and unless you know a lot more about the particulars of an individual’s upgrade/increase, spreading unfounded rumors of illegal hiring practice or nepotism can be construed as creating a hostile work environment. Asking a few innocuous-sounding questions can be a good way of gathering more information, but going directly to a manager and asking why you weren’t allowed to compete for a position you wanted is usually a better way to gain insight into the situation. Managers are more likely to provide you with a complete explanation under these circumstances, as they are well aware of the potential for OIG complaints if you are not given a satisfactory (and LEGAL) answer. It also keeps you out of any potential involvement in a hostile work claim.

    As to hiring spouses: Keep in mind that service-disabled veterans may qualify for direct hiring without advertising the position. This is legal, and there is legislation which specifically allows it for a number of positions. Spouses of service-disabled vets and veterans currently employed in the federal workforce are also entitled to a hiring preference, which may even include direct-hire ability depending on the circumstances. Again, openly asking the manager about the reasons you were not allowed to compete for a position is your best shot at getting information one way or the other.

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