What Is the Difference Between a Disciplinary Action and an Adverse Action?

Facing disciplinary or adverse action from your employer can feel frightening and overwhelming, especially if you do not understand the difference between the two. Federal employment law provides a framework for employers to manage employee behavior and performance, and employees must be aware of their rights in these situations.

Both disciplinary and adverse actions can have severe repercussions for your job security, so knowing what separates them is essential to protect yourself.

Disciplinary Action vs. Adverse Action

While these two terms may appear similar on the surface, they have distinct differences that you need to understand.

Disciplinary Action

When a federal employee is accused of misconduct and placed under investigation, they may be subject to disciplinary action. Federal employees must be informed of the misconduct and allowed to respond to the allegations. They also have a right to demand access to any evidence regarding the alleged misconduct.

It's the employer's responsibility to ensure that any disciplinary action is reasonable, proportional to the misconduct, and in compliance with federal employment laws and regulations. Failure to adhere to these requirements can lead to disciplinary action being deemed invalid and potentially illegal.

Examples of disciplinary action could include:

  • A written letter of reprimand
  • Suspension of 14 days or less
  • Oral counseling

Disciplinary actions are considered less severe than an adverse action, but that doesn't mean an accused employee should treat a potential disciplinary action lightly. Often, disciplinary action is used to lay the groundwork for more serious adverse action.

Adverse Action

An adverse action is a more severe form of discipline that affects an employee's permanent record.

Examples of adverse actions include:

  • Demotions
  • Suspensions of more than 15 days
  • Removals from federal service

Adverse action must be done in accordance with the Merit Systems Protection Board's procedures established by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

If you believe that you have been treated unfairly or if your employer has violated your rights as a federal employee, it is essential that you seek legal counsel. An experienced federal employment law firm can provide guidance and advice on protecting your rights and interests.

Common Grounds for Misconduct Investigations

There are several common grounds on which misconduct investigations are initiated for federal employees. Misconduct is generally defined as an action that violates established rules or accepted standards of behavior in the workplace.

Most often, federal employees are investigated for:

  • Financial impropriety, such as misuse of government credit cards or embezzlement of funds
  • Violation of security protocols, including mishandling of classified information
  • Substance abuse while at work
  • Failure to comply with workplace regulations or policies

Professional conduct that is inappropriate or inconsistent with the values and mission of the federal agency could also be deemed as misconduct. This may include harassment, discrimination, or any conduct that creates a hostile work environment. Such behavior not only affects the targeted individual but can also negatively impact the overall productivity and morale of the workplace.

In some cases, performance-related issues may also be viewed as misconduct, particularly if the employee is perceived as intentionally underperforming or disregarding their job responsibilities. Overall, it's important to remember that federal employees are held to high standards of conduct and integrity, and any action that compromises these principles can lead to disciplinary or adverse action.

How to Respond to a Misconduct Investigation

Facing a misconduct investigation can be a daunting process, but understanding your rights and how to respond can make a significant difference in the outcome of the investigation. In situations like this, a calm and professional approach is essential.

Here are some key steps to follow when you are under investigation:

  • Stay informed: Understand the allegations against you. You have the right to be informed of the specific misconduct you are being accused of. Request a copy of the written notice. Remember that you also have a right to access any evidence related to the allegations.
  • Seek legal advice: Contact a federal employment lawyer as soon as possible. Experienced legal guidance is crucial in navigating complex federal employment laws and regulations and ensuring your rights are protected throughout the process.

Understandably, you may feel anxious and apprehensive. However, reacting impulsively or defensively can be detrimental to your case. Avoid discussing your situation with colleagues, as this could be used against you. Also, refrain from any confrontation or direct communication with any accuser. It is crucial to maintain a professional demeanor throughout the investigation process.

Finally, be prepared for possible outcomes. Depending on the severity of the allegations, the result of the investigation could range from a written reprimand to termination from federal service. However, remember that disciplinary or adverse action is not the end of the road. You have the right to appeal the decision, and a reputable employment attorney can help you understand your options and choose the best course of action.

For further guidance, read our blog on What to Do If You Are a Federal Employee Being Investigated for Misconduct.

Seek Out Experienced Legal Counsel

Facing disciplinary or adverse actions in your federal job can be a high-stress situation. It is of utmost importance to engage an experienced employment law firm that specializes in federal employment laws and has a deep understanding of the nuances involved. The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorney at Law, PLLC, is committed to protecting the rights of federal employees and offers expert legal advice tailored to the unique circumstances of each employment situation.

Our attorneys are well-versed in federal employment laws, the intricacies of the Merit Systems Protection Board's procedures, and the Office of Personnel Management's guidelines. We provide comprehensive legal representation, from the initial consultation to the conclusion of your case, ensuring we stand by your side throughout this challenging journey. Whether it is understanding the allegations against you, exploring your legal options, or representing you during the investigation process, our team is equipped to advocate on your behalf.

Remember, while disciplinary or adverse actions can be daunting, they are not insurmountable obstacles. With the right legal counsel, you can navigate these situations and potentially minimize their impact on your federal career. The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorney at Law, PLLC, has been a trusted ally of federal employees for many years, and we are ready to assist you.

Reach out to us online or call us at (202) 350-3881 to schedule a consultation and let us help you protect your rights, your job, and your future.