What is Wrongful Termination in the Federal Workplace?

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer

What is wrongful termination?

In the federal government, you cannot be fired because of your age, color, disability, national origin, pregnancy, race or religion. In addition, it is unlawful to fire a federal employee in retaliation due complaints about an unlwaful action.

federal employee wrongful termination

As a federal employee, you have strong job protections. But even with these safeguards, wrongful termination can still happen. Whether through unfair dismissal, discrimination, or retaliation for whistleblowing, navigating the complexities of federal employment law can be perplexing.

So what happens if you’re suddenly terminated without just cause?

This is a comprehensive guide that explains all about federal employee wrongful termination and actions you can take if you find yourself being fired unlawfully.

The federal employment lawyers at The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer are dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality legal advice and representation to help you understand your rights. If you have been unlawfully fired from your federal job, contact us today online today or call us at 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation.

Experts In This Article

How Can a Federal Employee Protect Their Rights in Case of Wrongful Termination?

In the face of unjust termination, it’s best to take swift action. Gather evidence and keep detailed records of work-related events, performance reviews, and relevant interactions to build a strong case. Seek counsel from a federal employment lawyer as soon as possible. They will provide clarity on your situation and guide you through the best course of action.

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in the Federal Context

In the federal context, wrongful termination describes a range of unlawful actions that lead to the dismissal of a federal employee. Unlike the “at-will” employment prevalent in the private sector, federal workers are protected by the concept of “just cause” for termination. This means that the employee must have committed a fireable offense. The burden of proof is on the agency. They must have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing you, backed by clear evidence and due process. 

Understanding these elements helps determine whether you have grounds for pursuing justice. Here are vital factors that define wrongful termination in the federal workplace:

  • Discrimination based on protected characteristics: Federal laws explicitly prohibit termination based on discriminatory factors such as race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or national origin. It qualifies as wrongful termination if you are dismissed due to any of these protected characteristics.
  • Retaliation for whistleblowing: Federal employees are often in positions where they may witness or become aware of unlawful activities within their agencies. Terminating an employee in retaliation for whistleblowing—reporting illegal actions, fraud, or abuse—is considered a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Federal laws aim to protect employees who courageously expose misconduct in federal workplaces.
  • Violation of contractual rights: Most federal employees sign an employment contract, and termination that breaches the terms of the employment agreement constitutes wrongful termination. This could include termination without following the agreed-upon procedures or without proper cause.
  • Denial of due process: Federal employees have a right to due process, which includes fair treatment and an opportunity to review all evidence the agency is relying upon. You also have the right to respond to the allegations before termination. It could be considered wrongful termination if you’re dismissed without being provided an adequate chance to address concerns or defend yourself.
  • Political affiliation or activities: Federal staff are protected from termination based on their political affiliation or participation in political activities outside of work. You can claim wrongful termination if you’re fired for engaging in lawful political activities or membership to a particular political group. This is protected under The Hatch Act.
  • Failure to accommodate disabilities: The Rehabilitation Act mandates federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Wrongful termination may result if an employer fails to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee, leading to dismissal.
  • Violations of public policy: Wrongful termination may also be established if you are dismissed for reasons that violate established public policy. This can include terminating an employee for refusing to participate in illegal activities or for taking legally protected actions, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Selective enforcement of policies: Wrongful termination can also occur if an employer selectively enforces workplace policies, using them as a pretext to dismiss an employee based on personal motives rather than legitimate reasons.

It is important for federal employees to know that in almost all cases of termination for cause the burden of proof is on the employer. 

Recognizing the Signs of a Potential Wrongful Termination

Certain red flags signal potential trouble and can be referenced to establish wrongful termination. Be vigilant if you experience:

  • Sudden shifts in the work environment: Increased scrutiny, micromanagement, or isolation may be warning signs.
  • Negative performance evaluations: Unjustified criticism or sudden changes in evaluation criteria could be red flags.
  • Disciplinary actions: Even minor, unwarranted reprimands may indicate a building case for termination.

Understanding these facets of wrongful termination in the federal context enables you to recognize potential violations and to stay ahead to take appropriate action.

Your Rights as a Federal Employee

As a dedicated federal employee, you contribute tirelessly to the nation’s well-being. In return, the law grants you unique protections to safeguard your career from arbitrary or unjust termination. Knowing and wielding these rights is your shield against wrongful termination.

Anti-Discrimination Protections

Federal laws like the Civil Rights Act prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability, and age. As a federal worker, you have the right to a workplace free from discrimination, including during hiring, promotions, and terminations.

Whistleblower Protections

The Whistleblower Protection Act shields federal employees who report illegal activities or violations of laws within their agencies. You have the right to blow the whistle on wrongdoing without fear of retaliation or wrongful termination.

Due Process Rights

The due process clause protects federal employees against unfair dismissal. This includes the right to proper notice, an opportunity to respond to allegations, and a fair hearing. If these rights are violated, the termination is considered wrongful.

Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities

Under the Rehabilitation Act, federal employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. You have the right to request and receive accommodations that allow you to perform your job effectively. 

Collective Bargaining Rights

Some federal employees have the right to engage in collective bargaining through unions. Your rights under collective bargaining agreements can protect you from unjust termination. Any termination that violates the terms established through collective bargaining may be deemed wrongful.

The Advantages of Hiring a Federal Employment Lawyer

Federal employment law is very different from private-sector employment law. It’s a combination of regulations, procedures, and nuances enacted by the federal government that can be difficult to navigate without specialized knowledge.

Here’s why you should hire a federal employment attorney to guide you through your wrongful termination claim:

  • Expertise in federal employment law: Federal employment law is a highly specialized field distinct from general employment law. Federal employment attorneys possess in-depth knowledge of the specific statutes, regulations, and case law governing federal employees. This expertise is tailored to the particular challenges faced by federal employees.
  • Objective evaluation of your case’s merits: A federal employment lawyer will assess your case objectively to develop a strategic plan tailored to your unique situation. They analyze the circumstances surrounding your termination, identify potential legal violations, and determine the strength of your claim. This evaluation acts as a guide as to the best course of action.
  • Skilled at navigating administrative processes: Challenging wrongful termination often involves complex administrative procedures. Federal employment lawyers understand the intricacies of filing complaints, meeting deadlines, and presenting evidence during proceedings. Their experience ensures you adhere to the necessary protocols when challenging termination.
  • Strategic advice on evidence collection: Building a robust case requires collecting and presenting compelling evidence. Federal employment lawyers provide strategic advice on what evidence is relevant and how to obtain it. Their guidance enhances the likelihood of a successful resolution in your favor.
  • Strong negotiation skills: In many cases, negotiations play a crucial role in resolving wrongful termination disputes. Federal employment lawyers possess strong negotiation skills, advocating for your rights and working towards a fair and just resolution.
  • Representation during hearings and appeals: Having a federal employment lawyer by your side is invaluable if your case progresses to a hearing or appeal. They can represent you professionally, presenting your case persuasively to administrative bodies or in court if necessary.
  • Mitigate emotional stress: Wrongful termination can be emotionally distressing. Having a federal employment lawyer provides a buffer, allowing you to focus on your well-being while they handle the legal complexities of your case.
  • Customized legal support: Federal employment lawyers provide personalized legal support tailored to the unique circumstances of your case. They understand the challenges specific to federal employment and can craft a legal strategy that addresses your individual needs and goals.
  • Likelihood of success: With specialized knowledge, experience in federal employment law, and a strategic approach, hiring a federal employment lawyer increases the likelihood of a successful resolution. Their familiarity with the nuances of the legal system positions you for a more favorable outcome.

Why You Should Choose The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer

Don’t let wrongful termination derail your career. Take control of your situation and seek the help you deserve. The professional team at The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer is here to fight for your rights and secure the best possible outcome.

We bring a proven track record of success in navigating federal employee termination laws, offering nationwide representation and personalized legal support. Our dedication to clear communication and comprehensive assistance throughout legal proceedings underscores our commitment to your success.

While based in Maryland, our firm represents federal employees nationwide. Regardless of your location, we are dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality legal representation tailored to the specific needs of federal staff across the country.

Contact us today at 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation. Discover how we can help you navigate the complexities of federal employment law and 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.