How to Handle a Letter of Reprimand [Federal Employees]

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Experts In This Article

As one of the largest employers in the country, the United States government has certain policies and procedures in effect to protect their employees that differ from the private sector. While federal employees can be reprimanded or fired, there are more protections in place to protect federal employees than their private sector counterparts have, and specific steps must be taken before a government employee can be demoted, dismissed, or fired. 

As a federal employee, it is then important that you are familiar with the process you may face if you receive disciplinary action, as this will ensure that you know your rights and how you should proceed. If you are facing proposed disciplinary action from your federal agency, keep reading as we look at how the disciplinary process works and what you should consider before responding to your notice of proposed disciplinary action.

What is a Letter of Reprimand for a Federal Employee?

You may face several types of disciplinary action as a government employee. The type of action taken against you will depend on several factors, including the reason for the proposed discipline, the nature of the alleged misconduct, your disciplinary history, your position, and your past performance. 

A letter of reprimand is generally the first form of disciplinary action an employee will face. This is a letter regarding your misconduct or deficient performance that remains in your official personnel file for a certain period of time, and it can act as a precursor to further disciplinary action. Other forms of disciplinary action a federal employee may face include:

  • Suspension: In this situation, you remain employed but are prohibited from working for a set amount of time and are denied pay. 
  • Demotion: You are placed in a position at a lower grade and/or with less pay.
  • Removal/Termination: The federal agency where you work terminates your employment.

Being presented with a letter of reprimand or being notified of some other form of proposed disciplinary action can be a scary prospect for any federal employee. The good news is that you have rights, and you may be able to appeal your employer’s decision. This makes it critical that you consult a federal employment attorney if you receive notice of disciplinary action. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and advise you on how to proceed.

At The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, we know how overwhelming it can be to receive a notice of disciplinary action as a federal employee. Fortunately, you do not have to go through this alone. We work hard to protect the rights of federal employees across the country, and if you are facing disciplinary action from your federal agency, we can support you during this difficult time and ensure that your employment rights are protected. 

Feel free to contact us online or call us at (202) 964-4878 for advice on what you should do next if you are facing disciplinary action, or keep reading to learn more about how you should handle disciplinary action as a federal employee. 

Federal Employee Disciplinary Rights

A federal agency can issue employees a reprimand or letter of counseling without giving them advanced notice. However, federal employees are entitled to at least 30 days of advanced notice when an agency proposes demotion, suspension, or removal. Federal employees are entitled to written notice of proposed discipline, and they must be provided with an opportunity to respond to the notice.

The notice of proposed discipline must also explain the following:

  • The Specific Reasons for The Proposed Discipline: The notice you receive must outline the charges against you and identify facts supporting these charges such as specific incidents of misconduct or performance.
  • Your Right to Review The Evidence: The notice must also inform you of your right to review the evidence being used to support the charges against you. Sometimes, the agency will provide the evidence file with the notice of discipline. If they don’t, the notice should explain what you need to do to obtain this evidence. 
  • The Opportunity to Respond Orally and/or in Writing: As a federal employee, you have a right to respond to the proposed discipline, and the agency must give you a reasonable amount of time to respond to the notice. Generally, seven calendar days or more is usually considered a reasonable amount of time to respond, and you have the right to respond in writing, orally, or both. 
  • Your Right to a Representative: The notice should also advise you that you have the right to have a representative assist you in responding to the charges. This representative can be a union representative, an attorney, or some other person. Of course, you can choose not to have a representative, and the agency isn’t responsible for providing you with one.

Responding to Proposed Disciplinary Action

After receiving a notice of proposed disciplinary action, you may find yourself overwhelmed and unsure how to proceed. The first step that you should take is to request the evidence file being used to support the proposed discipline if it was not included with the notice, as this information can help you better understand the charges against you. You may also choose to request a time extension to respond if you feel the time being offered is insufficient, and you can express your desire to exercise your right to present an oral reply as well. These requests can be made through an interim reply, which usually must be provided to the agency’s deciding official and HR within three business days of receiving the notice of proposed disciplinary action. Once you have done this, your next step will be to prepare your written and oral replies.

Written Reply

Take some time to carefully compose your written response to your notice of discipline. When drafting your response, a few things you should consider including are:

  • Your employment background.
  • The charges being made against you and why you believe they are either untrue or do not constitute misconduct or poor performance under the law.
  • Any mitigating factors that could refute the agency’s claims.
  • Supporting evidence such as medical records or statements from your coworkers.

Make sure that you address each of the charges being made against you (if there is more than one), and use evidence to refute each of them. It is ultimately the agency’s responsibility to prove the charges being made against you, and any evidence you provide could go a long way in supporting your case. You may want to consider consulting an attorney when formulating your written response, as this document may be your best chance to defend your case. 

Oral Reply

In addition to writing a comprehensive response defending your position, you should seriously consider presenting an oral response as well. This allows you to personalize the situation for the agency deciding official, allowing you to make a case for why the proposed discipline isn’t warranted. While this can be a stressful and emotional situation, it is critical that you are mindful of your words, tone, and demeanor when presenting your oral response, as this could affect your case. You also have the right to have an attorney represent you at this stage as well, which is usually recommended as an experienced attorney can help develop and present an effective argument to defend your position. 

Notice of Decision

After you have received a notice of proposed discipline and you’ve had a reasonable amount of time to respond, your employer must issue you a written notice of its decision to demote, suspend, or remove you. It is important to note that your agency cannot issue a penalty that is more severe than the one in the notice of discipline. However, before they have issued a final decision, they may withdraw their proposed action and reissue a new proposed disciplinary action that can be more severe. 

Your notice of decision must explain the specific reasons for the disciplinary action and what your rights are moving forward, such as if you have the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Most federal employees have a right to file an appeal with the MSPB if they are suspended for more than 14 days or if they are demoted or terminated from their current position. However, you must file your appeal within 30 calendar days of the date you receive the notice of decision.

How a Federal Employment Lawyer Can Help

While you aren’t required to hire a federal employment attorney when facing disciplinary action, it is advisable that you do so. An experienced federal employment attorney can review the notice of proposed discipline and the evidence against you, and they can advise you on how to respond. They can even prepare a written response and provide an oral reply on your behalf. An employment attorney knows the law inside and out, and they can help ensure that your rights are protected as well as represent you in an MSPB appeal

If you are a federal employee facing disciplinary action, you do not have to go through this scary experience alone. At The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, our experienced team can help support you during this difficult time and advise you on the best steps to take moving forward. Feel free to contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or to schedule a consultation.

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.