We don’t often write about pending legislation in our newsletter for two reasons:
- Most bills do not become law, and
- Tentative legislation confuses people (your humble reporter included) because it’s hard to remember, “Did that thing ever pass or did I just read about it?”
However, we’re going to make an exception this time because this bill, if it becomes law and is properly implemented, could save your life.
S. 2450, the bi-partisan “Administrative Leave Act of 2016” recently was voted out of committee and thereby has a decent chance of becoming law. The main purpose of the bill is to restrict the use of administrative leave (i.e., excused paid absence approved by agencies), not doubt in response to recent news reports about federal employees being on paid administrative leave for months and years because their supervisors (who apparently have not been to FELTG training) could not figure out what to do with them.
A number of agencies have embarked on a program to restrict the use of administrative leave even without this proposed legislation. I think we would all agree that the image of a federal employee sitting home watching soaps while drawing his six-figure salary when hard-working non-feds are fighting for a $15 federal minimum wage is enough to make one want to storm the Bastille. Government waste is on the front pages a lot this year, in large part because of the upcoming Presidential election. Feeding such stories of government ineptitude to the populace is a tried-and-true method for getting folks to vote.
As much as we all might agree with the desire to curb excessive administrative leave, there are some times that the use of short-term administrative leave is not only desirable, but may be a life-and death matter. Those of you who have attended our supervisory training program, UnCivil Servant, know that we are big believers that once a supervisor has issued an employee a proposed removal letter, that employee should be removed from the workplace until a final agency decision is made on the proposal. The main reason is that an employee who has been given a proposed removal is under a huge amount of stress, and stressed-out people sometimes become angry and dangerous. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that every workday of the year (Monday – Friday), about two people are killed by a coworker in a worksite. And you don’t have to read many news reports about those homicides to learn that many of those killings are directly related to workplace discipline or termination. There are a number of other reasons, as well, to get people out of the workplace (e.g., curtailing access to sensitive agency information available to the about-too-be –fired employee who will soon be in need of some money), but the potential for homicide is the number one reason.
Unfortunately, a number of agencies (and other versions of administrative leave restriction proposed legislation) swipe at administrative leave control with a broad brush, failing to see the significant benefit of getting the employee out of the workplace once removal is proposed. As every reader of this newsletter knows, back in 1978 Congress said that any federal employee who has a removal proposed is entitled to 30 days of paid notice prior to the removal being effectuated. Agencies that restrict all administrative leave, regardless of duration or need, place employees in a dangerous situation once a proposal to remove is issued.
S. 2450, fortunately, addresses the need to get employees out of the workplace once a removal is proposed. While restricting administrative leave in other situations, this bill creates a new form of excused paid absence to be known as Notice Leave. Such leave can be implemented by an agency for the length of the notice period prior to a removal, most likely the 30-days created by Congress in 1978, but not necessarily so restricted should the agency grant a longer notice period. So all you federal employees out there who are reading this article and have concern for your own life as well as that of your coworkers and citizen clients of your agency, contact your Congress Members and Senators. Tell them you LOVE-LOVE-LOVE S. 2450 and that you hope they will vote for it.
The main downside to the legislation, however, is that it leaves it up to agencies to decide when Notice Leave should be used rather than mandating that it should be used in every proposed removal. The problem with that is that some idiot at some agency is going to decide that he can predict who is going to be dangerous after being given a proposed removal, and that only potentially dangerous employees should be placed on Notice Leave. That is SO foolish and arrogant. NO ONE can predict who is going to go over the edge once a proposal is issued. Read the news reports about workplace homicides. In my collection of such articles, over half of the killings “came out of nowhere.” “She was so nice. No one would have guessed that she could become violent.” There is a special place in Hell (thank you, Madeline Albright) for individuals within agencies who declare that they can predict who is going to be violent, thereby arrogantly putting other people’s lives at risk.
Hey, all you policy makers out there. If S. 2450 becomes law, put on your grown-up pants and make an important policy decision for your organization. Accept that every employee who is issued a 30-day notice of a tentative removal can become life-or-death violent. Then, in line with the new law, issue a policy that within your organization, EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE who has a removal proposed will be placed on Notice Leave until the final decision is issued. After that, make sure that the darned decisions are issued not much later than 30 days, and the world will be a better place: Congress will be happy, the employees at your agency whose lives have been spared will be happy, and here at FELTG, we can finally put aside one of our big soap box speeches that we’ve been preaching for the past 15 years. [email protected].