Whistleblower agency issues policy on adverse actions

klunney@govexec.com

A rapid increase in the number of federal employees seeking to prevent agencies from implementing adverse personnel actions against them has led the Office of Special Counsel to publish a policy on handling such requests.

Under federal law, OSC can file requests to the Merit Systems Protection Board for stays of adverse actions taken by agencies against employees, such as suspensions or reductions in pay. OSC investigates allegations by federal employees and applicants of prohibited personnel practices, particularly complaints charging retaliation against whistleblowers.

Deputy Special Counsel Tim Hannapel said that OSC recently has seen an influx of stay requests from employees. In response, OSC issued a statement outlining its criteria for approving requests to help employees better understand the process.

OSC says it must have "reasonable grounds" to consider a stay request, and will only do so if an agency is trying to take a serious action against an employee.

"We are not going to seek a stay if what you are complaining about is a written reprimand from your supervisor, as opposed to a more serious personnel action-for example being fired, or being forced to relocate," said Hannapel.

MSPB can grant employees stays of up to 45 days, but OSC can ask the board for extensions. According to a spokeswoman for the Office of the Special Counsel, agencies frequently agree to grant stays during OSC investigations.

In fiscal 1999, OSC obtained approximately 15 stays of adverse action against employees. The majority of cases involved claims of retaliation for whistleblowing.

Hannapel said the written policy and announcement on stay requests is part of OSC's effort to keep employees, agencies and Congress informed about OSC policies.

"The fact that this [the stay policy] is written down will allow for a more consistent application," Hannapel said.

OSC's stay policy is available in the online OSC reading room.

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