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.
I have two questions:
- I am a civilian who works for the U.S. Army. Recently, one of my leaders told some of us that he expects managers and supervisors to work off the clock, if needed, to get the job done and that he was not going to authorize overtime or comp time. Is this legal?
- If a blow the whistle to the Inspector General concerning some organizational practices that I believe are questionable, and I turn out to be wrong, am I protected under the Federal Whistleblowers statute?
- If you are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, you are entitled to overtime and you can file your claim. If you are exempt (check your appointing SF-50), it is more complicated. You are not entitled to overtime unless it is directed in writing. Drawing that line between working overtime because the job needs to be done and refusing to work overtime because it has not been directed or authorized is a fine and careful line often walked by many federal employees. Ask the hardworking lawyer at the Department of Justice how they feel about the issue.
- If you have a reasonable belief that what you are disclosing is a violation of law, rule, or regulation; a gross financial irregularity; an abuse of authority; or a specific threat to health or safety, you are protected. A lack of clarity on protected disclosures sometimes arises because of an employee’s belief that an agency is violating the law when the agency has a different and good faith interpretation of the law. This situation gets into the policy disagreement area and is not a protected disclosure unless the would-be whistleblower can show that the agency’s interpretation is clearly wrong or is unreasonable. You can only be protected from whistleblower reprisal if you are a whistleblower. Sometimes, this is a hard question to answer.
Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.
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