Handling a Federal Employee Complaint Against a Supervisor for Misconduct

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Experts In This Article
federal government supervisor misconduct

Address Federal Supervisor Misconduct with Confidence

Few things are more upsetting in the business world than supervisor misconduct. This is especially true when you are a federal government employee and your supervisor has tenure. It is extremely difficult to instigate disciplinary action against a tenured government worker. They have the right to notice, due process, and appeal. A federal employee misconduct investigation must be conducted, a hearing held, and the right disciplinary actions considered. In other words, stopping misconduct in its tracks, or even protecting yourself as the target of misconduct, can feel out of reach when it is your supervisor at fault.

Fortunately, you are not alone. The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer and our federal employment attorneys can help you seek the rightful outcome when your federal government supervisor’s misconduct has put you, your coworkers, or your agency at risk.

What is Considered Misconduct by a Federal Supervisor?

Federal supervisors may commit misconduct through various infractions such as attendance problems, insubordination, harassment, discrimination, misuse of government property, and falsification of records.The nature of the misconduct and its severity determine the level of disciplinary action that may be taken.

How Can You Get Justice If Your Federal Government Supervisor Commits Misconduct?

Taking disciplinary action against a tenured federal employee is an arduous process. The misconduct must be proven and due process provides the right of defense and appeal. For someone who’s federal government supervisor is guilty of misconduct, you need more than just your word and witness statement to take action.

A skilled federal employment lawyer can help you build a strong case against your supervisor and stand your ground when the accusation is challenged. Your lawyer will make your voice heard and ensure that the system treats your evidence with the respect and weight it deserves. Just as importantly, a federal employment lawyer can protect you from retaliation or counter-accusations if the workplace becomes untenable after you have taken action to stop the misconduct you have witnessed.

Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation, and we will start the necessary process to see your supervisor face appropriate consequences for their misconduct.

What Are The Consequences of Misconduct by a Federal Government Supervisor?

How will your supervisor be dealt with once their misconduct has been proven? Misconduct is an important concept for federal employees, as upright behavior is a must when working in the public sector. While the disciplinary machine is slow, it can eventually mete out exacting consequences for misconduct, depending on the severity and circumstances.

The slow process is valuable because it promotes measured and thoughtful discipline rather than rashness or heavy-handedness. It can be beneficial if someone is falsely accused or stuck in complex circumstances. However, outright abusive or criminal behavior will face strict consequences appropriate to the transgression. This can include suspension, termination, and sometimes even criminal charges.

What Constitutes Workplace Misconduct for a Federal Employee?

There are many types of misconduct defined for federal employees, ranging from tardiness to criminal acts. However, the most common misconduct types for federal supervisors are harassment, discrimination, and misuse of government property. We will take a closer look at the different examples of misconduct and the severity of disciplinary measures taken as a response.

Attendance Problems

Tardiness and missed shifts are considered a form of misconduct. It is not a severe type of misconduct and defines the low-end of the scale in terms of disciplinary measures taken in response to the matter. However, someone with many infractions regarding attendance will start in a disadvantageous position should further problems with conduct arise.

Example of Attendance Problems Involving a Supervisor
John, a retail company supervisor, has been consistently late over the last six months. Despite multiple verbal and written warnings about the importance of punctuality, his tardiness continued, with 15 late arrivals in the last 20 working days.  John’s ongoing tardiness has been more than just a minor inconvenience; it’s disrupted the whole team’s workflow and put extra pressure on his colleagues.


Federal employees are expected to comply with lawful and ethical requests from a supervisor or someone higher in their management chain. Being disrespectful, refusing to follow orders, or refusing to comply with instructions can become an insubordination infraction. While having a bad attitude is rarely considered misconduct, overt defiance in the face of reasonable and lawful requests may result in disciplinary proceedings.

When taking action against a corrupt supervisor, you may be accused of insubordination. However, this will be seen as whistleblower retaliation once your supervisor’s own misconduct has been revealed and proven.

Example of Insubordination and Whistleblower Retaliation:
Mark, a federal analyst, was ordered by his supervisor to manipulate data in a report, which he refused, citing ethical standards. His supervisor accused him of insubordination and initiated disciplinary actions. Mark reported the unethical request to the agency’s inspector general. The investigation confirmed the supervisor’s misconduct, leading to the dismissal of charges against Mark and disciplinary action against his supervisor.

Harassment and Discrimination

Interpersonal misconduct most often occurs in the form of harassment and discrimination. Federal employers are bound by the same standards as public sector employees regarding the EEOC and the ADA. They are not permitted to take any action motivated by a protected identity feature such as religion, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality, family status, disability status, age (over 40), nationality, or genetic features. Even assigning schedules based on this information is a form of misconduct known as discrimination.

If actions are hostile due to discriminatory factors, the misconduct is upgraded to harassment. Federal employees are not allowed to insult, berate, or express negativity toward people for these protected factors. They are also not allowed to engineer unfavorable working conditions or hand-pick opportunities based on these factors.

Lastly, overt and unwanted sexual attention or covert sexual activity regarding another person is guaranteed misconduct.

Harassment and discrimination misconduct is valid whether the behavior was directed as an employee, coworker, vendor representative, or stranger on the street. If you are a federal employee facing discrimination at the workplace, contact a federal discrimination attorney to discuss your case and explore your legal options.

Example of Harassment and Discrimination in a Federal Workplace:
Linda, a federal employee with a visible disability, faced discrimination at her government job when her supervisor refused to provide reasonable accommodations, which are required by law. Additionally, she endured frequent, derogatory comments about her disability from coworkers, which her supervisor ignored. After documenting these incidents, Linda filed a discrimination complaint with the EEO office.

Misuse of Government Property

Federal employees must be very careful to avoid misuse of government property, because some people treat public office resources like their own personal stockpile. Driving agency vehicles for personal errands, using agency information systems for unauthorized research, or using agency facilities for non-work purposes are all examples of misuse of government property.

While there are many mitigating circumstances, the misconduct hearing seeks to identify the important difference between a work laptop sometimes used for personal tasks vs. someone who takes the agency vehicles for joy rides on the weekends.

Example of Misuse of Government Property
John, a supervisor at the Department of Transportation, was found using a government-owned vehicle for personal errands and weekend family outings. This misuse was uncovered during a routine audit of vehicle logs, revealing significant discrepancies in mileage and fuel usage. Upon investigation, John admitted to the personal use.

Falsification of Records

One of the most serious forms of misconduct for a federal employee is the falsification of records. The records of a public sector office belong to the government and, therefore, the people. From misleading reports to fabricated expense reports, falsified documents violate the sacred trust given to tenured government workers. 

Example of Supervisor Misconduct: Falsification of Records
Susan, a supervisor at a federal health agency, altered employee timesheets to report additional hours that her team did not work, in order to secure additional funding for her department. She also fabricated expense reports to cover personal purchases. The discrepancies were uncovered during an internal audit, which revealed a pattern of altered documents and falsified claims over several months. The supervisor misconduct not only breached the trust placed in her as a government official but also misappropriated federal funds.

How to File a Complaint Against the Misconduct of a Federal Supervisor

If your federal supervisor has been committing any of the above acts of misconduct, your sense of justice and public safety will likely drive you to take action. Blatant harassment, covert discrimination, falsification of documents, or theft from the agency commonly incite anger and horror when you realize that your supervisor is the one committing these types of acts.

You may even find yourself having to refuse an order to commit unlawful or unethical acts from this very supervisor. In either case, your next steps are vital if you want to ensure the supervisor is stopped and minimize further harm they can cause.

However, taking action can be difficult. You will need all your strength, determination, and a dedicated legal team to back your complaint throughout the due process that will follow.

Contact a Federal Employment Law Attorney

Your first act should be to join forces with a federal employment law attorney. We know the ins and outs of misconduct proceedings for tenured federal employees like your supervisor and how to build a strong case proving their misconduct in its full scope. Your attorney will help you to prepare a robust complaint, prepare you for participation in the due process, and help you to protect yourself from potential retaliation before your supervisor is removed from their position or reassigned away from your office.

Quietly Gather Evidence

Once you have a lawyer and a plan, begin gathering evidence. If possible, collect the information you need without raising the alarm. Your attorney will help you determine what information to gather and how to lawfully collect your evidence based on your state and situation.

File Your Complaint With the Office of Special Counsel (OSC)

Once the evidence is compiled into a robust report, you can file your complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) who is in charge of handling prohibited personnel practices (misconduct). If the situation is severe, your lawyer may also help you file concurrent reports with other related offices such as the EEOC, OIG, or NLRB.

Prepare to Defend and Stand as a Witness

Once the complaint is made, the due process begins. There will be an investigation to prove your allegations, and you may be asked to participate as a witness in the formal hearing. Your federal employment attorney will help you prepare to make strong, clear statements based on what you witnessed or discovered.

Protect Yourself from Retaliation

Lastly, it is important to take measures to protect yourself from retaliation. Once your supervisor becomes aware that you filed the complaint, you may be at risk of being targeted in the workplace. You can work with your attorney to prepare for this possibility and add any retaliatory actions to the investigation against your employer to speed up the disciplinary process.

Don’t Be Afraid to Defend Your Federal Agency Against Supervisor Misconduct

If you are proud to be a federal employee, supervisor misconduct simply cannot be tolerated. The federal employment attorneys of The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer stand with you. We are a firm  dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality legal representation to federal employees nationwide, and we will help you take action to stop gross misconduct in its tracks. Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can help you achieve your legal goals.

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Meet the Author:
Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Justin Schnitzer is the managing partner of The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, and represents individual federal employees and unions in various aspects of federal employment law. His practice is primarily dedicated to federal EEOC and MSPB matters, responses to proposed disciplinary actions and investigations into potential misconduct.