What Disciplinary Actions Are Permissible for Federal Employees?

There are four (4) main types of disciplinary action that are permissible for federal employees, including reprimand, suspension, demotion, and termination. Depending on the agency, additional adverse actions may be appropriate. According to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board different types of adverse actions also use different rules.

Whenever a federal employee is facing disciplinary action, they have certain rights, including the right to be represented by an attorney. Depending on your unique circumstances, hiring an attorney may be in your best interests if you are facing an adverse action at work.

The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC can help shield you from career-damaging actions.

Letter of Reprimand

Before receiving a letter of reprimand, employees should be approached by their supervisor. Often, informal counseling can stop undesirable behavior before it escalates to the level of disciplinary action.

Many employers issue warnings or admonishments before taking formal disciplinary action, as well.

A letter of reprimand informs an employee of their alleged misconduct and may precede more severe disciplinary actions. It also stays on the employee’s records.


Employees may be temporarily and/or indefinitely suspended from duty or pay. Certain employment privileges may also be suspended.

For suspensions longer than 14 calendar days, employees have the right to appeal or file a grievance.


Demotion is a reduction in grade or pay, and federal employees can be demoted for misconduct. Fortunately, employees can also contest demotions if necessary.

Sometimes, employers assign less favorable tasks to employees who are misbehaving. This kind of adverse action may fall under demotion in some circumstances.


Termination occurs when the employer removes the employee from their position. Many people refer to termination as “getting fired.” Termination is also called removal, which federal agencies describe as:

The involuntary separation of an employee from employment with the Department and Federal service, except when effected due to a reduction-in-force or the expiration of an appointment.”

Removal is often the last resort for federal employers, who only terminate employees after other disciplinary actions have failed or in cases of severe wrongdoing.

Generally, federal employees cannot be terminated without cause.

Alternative Discipline

Alternative discipline is:

An alternative to traditional discipline, usually when the traditional penalty would be less than removal.”

Warnings and negative performance reviews are examples of alternative discipline, as is losing out on a bonus. Employers may also deny overtime, hold back raises and promotions, and take other adverse actions that do not rise to the level of formal disciplinary action.

In most employment situations, adverse action and disciplinary action are synonymous, but in federal employment law, the term “disciplinary action” applies to a letter of reprimand, suspension, demotion, and removal.

While federal employees may not be able to fight alternative discipline (unless it is illegal or retaliatory), they can almost always appeal suspensions, demotions, and terminations.

How to Defend Yourself from Disciplinary Action

To defend yourself from disciplinary action, you must appeal the decision or grieve the matter through a negotiated grievance procedure. The process is formal and involves many important deadlines. It may also be the only chance you get to tell your side of the story.

Whenever you are faced with formal disciplinary action, you have rights.

The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC is dedicated to protecting those rights.

One of the best ways to defend yourself from a disciplinary action is to hire an attorney and let them defend you. Our attorneys are formal federal employees who want to help defend your rights and your career.

Together, we have 30 years of award-winning federal employment law experience.

Call us at (202) 350-3881 or contact us online to discuss your case the moment you receive notice of disciplinary action.