By William Wiley, December 18, 2018
As our readers know, we strongly advocate that supervisors use the legal tools of civil service due process when confronted with an employee who is not doing his job. In our training, we describe the tools available to supervisors and explain how to use them. Sometimes we get a little pushback, usually from supervisor-participants who have one reason or another why our recommendations are ineffective. Unexpectedly, in one recent webinar, we got not one, but THREE reasons why the FELTG Way© would not work:
- If I do what you’re saying, the employee will go to the union and claim a hostile environment.
- My boss rates my performance down if I get EEO complaints or grievances.
- I don’t want to do that to my worst employee because I’m afraid that he will attack me physically.
To some, these are valid reasons for not doing what they are paid to do. For others, these are just whining. Here was our response to each of these concerns:
If I do what you’re saying, the employee will go to the union and claim a hostile environment.
Yeah, and if you play football, you’re going to get pushed around every now and then. If you get on a crowded bus, sometimes someone else is going to take the seat that you wanted. Employees have the legally given right to complain to their union representatives. They can say anything they want, characterize your treatment of them any way they choose to characterize it. However, that doesn’t mean that their complaints are justified. That doesn’t mean that you should not do what needs to be done to run your little part of the government. By law, holding an employee accountable because they are doing bad work or disobeying rules is NOT a hostile environment. Oh, the employee might complain that it is, but that doesn’t make it so. The union might get all in your face about how you’re mistreating the employee, but that’s just their job. Union claims do not make things true. If I were to say to you that you owe me $100, would you just hand me $100? No, you would not. You would stand up for yourself. Well, then, stand up for yourself when confronted by an employee or the union. As a supervisor, you are being PAID to stand up for your obligation to manage. If you do not have the courage or self-esteem to stand up, that’s fine. Just stop taking the government’s money that you are being paid to be a supervisor. Request a demotion and get out of the way to allow someone else to do what needs to be done.
My boss rates my performance down if I get EEO complaints or grievances.
Then you have a horrible boss who should get on board or get off the ship. Congress did not create the various federal agencies to have a place for employees to be stress-free and coddled by their managers. It created the agencies to get the work of the government done. How far do you think a basketball team will get if the coach says, “I don’t care how well you play; just don’t get any fouls.” Employees have the right to file complaints. We cannot take that right away from them. If we do whatever is necessary to avoid the complaint, then we have turned over management of the federal workplace to the employees instead of the supervisors. All an employee would need to do to get a raise, or full-time telework, or any other undeserved benefit would be to threaten to file a complaint. It is stupid and foolish to rate a supervisor’s performance solely on the number of complaints filed (if there is validity to the complaints, then of course that’s another story). If your supervisor rates your performance low because of the number of complaints filed, you should challenge that rating to his supervisor. And if confirmed at the next level, you should grieve your rating as high as possible within the administrative grievance procedure. If you exhaust the grievance procedure and the result is that all levels of supervision above you believe that you are a poor supervisor simply because of the number of complaints filed, send all those decisions to us here at FELTG. We know a guy or two over on Pennsylvania Avenue in DC and a Congress on Capitol Hill that would be interested to know that there is a group of federal managers who is afraid of its employees. The absolute epitome of an inept civil service is one in which the employees run the place and managers cower in the corner. If no one else will stand up for an efficient and fair federal workplace, we will here at FELTG.
I don’t want to do that to my worst employee because I’m afraid that he will attack me physically.
You know what? Nobody ever promised you that being a federal supervisor was easy. The job announcement under which you applied for your job did not say, “This work will always be a piece of cake.” We don’t promise firefighters that they will never get burned. We don’t tell the applicant to be a bomb squad technician that she will never be scared. We don’t recruit soldiers and guarantee them in their enlistment papers that they will not be shot at. Being a federal supervisor can be a very tough job.
There are measures in place to protect the supervisor from being mistreated by his employees. The Federal Protective Service is available for protection within a federal workspace. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has the jurisdiction to intercede if a federal official is threatened away from the workspace for work-related reasons (I know this first-hand, folks; serving as an Administrative Judge at MSPB ain’t the safest job in the world, either). Although these protections are significant, sometimes federal employees get burned and shot at; it’s just part of the job. If you don’t have the courage to be a federal supervisor, to stand up to employee complaints, bad supervision, or even physical threats, that’s fine. Go do something else. Let someone who has what it takes to be a federal supervisor serve in your place. You owe it to yourself, and you darned sure owe it to the American people. Stop taking a paycheck you do not earn.
I am at the end of my career. For the past 40+ years, I have tried to help the federal civil service be a better place for all of our citizens, to do what was intended when we decided to govern ourselves rather than comply with the demands of some dictator or king. After all this time, I am convinced that the weaknesses and the faults within our system do not lie with the unions. We don’t need new laws to have an efficient and fair government. Even the leadership from the White House doesn’t make much difference long term. What we need is supervisors and managers who have the courage to do what they are being paid to do and hold bad employees accountable for their bad-ness. We need agency lawyers who understand why delayed action is as bad as no action and who are not afraid of taking chances every now and then. We need human resources professionals who are not fearful of making mistakes and who have the initiative to learn this business that they are expected to know.
If you are one of these people, then FELTG is honored to support you. However, if you are a whiner and complainer, someone who does not do what you are expected to do in your position, then get off the pot. Be gone. Move out of the way so that someone braver than you can take over. Wiley@FELTG.com