By Ann Boehm, June 17, 2020
I just can’t write Good News this month. There’s too much bad news. Too much happening that doesn’t make sense. Months of dealing with COVID-19, and now George Floyd.
I’m not a good enough writer to express proper thoughts on the George Floyd tragedy. But I do know this: Don’t let bad employees keep their jobs! We teach it. Heck, let’s be honest – we preach it. And yet somehow, bad employees keep their jobs.
My Federal law enforcement friends, now is the time for you to take more seriously than ever issues of misconduct and poor performance by law enforcement officers. There are so many good law enforcement officers. We don’t need the bad ones. They can end up hurting people. They can end up killing people.
And this guidance applies to all Federal employees. Every Federal employee is working on behalf of the American public. You all have important missions. It’s pretty obvious from the news that the American people care a lot about the work of the Department of Health and Human Services, particularly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. It’s easy to dismiss the impact of a weak employee until there is a crisis. If there are bad employees, they can harm the public not just in the United States, but the world.
Is avoiding a personnel lawsuit really worth that? Take the right steps. The law allows (and, in fact, obligates) you to remove poor performers. The law allows you to utilize progressive discipline and remove an employee who continually engages in misconduct. And if a single instance of misconduct is bad enough, you don’t even have to use progressive discipline. Yes, you can fire a Federal employee.
We can help you handle misconduct cases so that you win the lawsuit. We can help you remove the poor performer and win the lawsuit. Where we can’t help you is when the bad officer harms an individual, and the public trust. We can’t help you after the bad scientist misses crucial research data and an opportunity to properly manage a pandemic.
If you lose an MSPB case or EEOC case when you remove a bad apple, then let the media know. Let the MSPB or EEOC defend the decision. But don’t avoid removing a bad employee just because you might lose a case. It will be much worse if the media ends up reporting that an employee who harmed a citizen had multiple instances of misconduct and stayed on the job. Or that the employee who mishandled review of a COVID-19 vaccine was a chronically poor performer.
I would also like to think now is the time for the unions to take a good look at how they address performance and misconduct cases. Of course employees have rights, but a bad employee is a bad employee. Remember that a bargaining unit is made up of many, many good employees, and too often the focus is on the bad ones. Figure out a way to protect good employees without over defending the bad.
So that’s my challenge. It’s a good time to assess performance and misconduct. Do the right thing. Please don’t make the news because of a bad employee. Make the news for doing what your mission requires you to do for the American people. I know you can do it! Boehm@FELTG.com