By William Wiley, April 12, 2017
We got a number of good questions following our famous FELTG Case Law Update webinar last week. A couple of them were about the new right that agencies have to avoid administrative leave and to place employees on Notice Leave once a removal is proposed. This is a terrific change, one we’ve campaigned for here at FELTG for nearly 20 years, and a flexibility that could save your life.
Seriously, it could save your life.
The new law empowers an agency to place an employee on paid Notice Leave for the duration of the notice period once a removal is proposed. Here are some related questions:
Hello FELTG Team:
Thank you very much for a wonderful training session this morning! I am very interested in the changes that are coming through the Administrative Leave Act of 2016 and have a few questions for you regarding the information presented.
Extension of Notice Period Beyond 30 Days
In the training, you addressed Notice Leave and indicated that the duration could be extend beyond 30 days. When I read the law, I interpreted it to be much more narrowly construed. The law defines notice period as “a period beginning on the date on which an employee is provided notice required under law of a proposed adverse action against the employee and ending on the date on which an agency may take the adverse action.” Generally, the first point at which an agency may take action under 5 CFR Sec. 752 is at the expiration of the 30 day notice period, which would indicate that the notice leave would expire at the 30 day mark. The interpretation seems to hinge on how “may” is defined. Is it defined as the earliest point when the action may legally be taken or is it defined as once the agency is ready to take action? I much prefer your interpretation that the notice period may be extended beyond 30 days and am interested to hear how you arrived at that conclusion.
Initial 10 Days of Investigative Leave
In the training, you spoke about the first 10 days of Investigative Leave. My understanding is that the first 10 days are considered administrative leave under Sec. 6329a(b)(1) and then the subsequent 30 day periods are Investigative Leave; is this in line with your interpretation of the law?
Employee Quits While on Investigative Leave
Do you have any insight into whether an investigation needs to be completed after an employee quits? The law seems to indicate that the employee has appeal rights if there is an eventual adverse finding. I’m unclear whether the investigation needs to be completed after the employee quits to determine whether there would have been an adverse finding or if you can cease efforts to determine if there was misconduct.
Any insights you can provide are much appreciated and thank you again for a great training session.
And, our FELTG response:
Thanks for your questions, oh wise and inquisitive participant. Of course, here at FELTG we do not claim to know the answers any better than you do as we are all working from the same cold language of the law. But here are my thoughts:
Extension of Notice Period Beyond 30 Days: To me, the term “may take action” is ambiguous enough for me to interpret it to my benefit until I’m told otherwise. For example, although in most situations an agency “may” be able to take an action at the end of the 30-day notice period, in other situations it may not. For example, if the deciding official has conducted an independent investigation into the charges and plans to use the results of that investigation in making a decision, he may not make that decision until the employee has been given at least seven days to respond to the new information. Or, perhaps the CBA says that the employee will be given 45 days to respond instead of the 30-day statutory minimum. Depending on circumstances, then, the notice period might run beyond 30 days, and the DO may not make a decision until a response is made or waived. Separately, if Congress had intended that Notice Leave be only for 30 days because that is the minimum statutory period, it easily could have specifically limited Notice Leave to 30 days instead of leaving it open to the interpretation of “may.” Since it is to my benefit as the agency representative to have the employee on Notice Leave longer than 30 days in some situations, since the employee has no way to challenge the placement on Notice Leave, and since the employee is not procedurally harmed if I am wrong in using Notice Leave beyond 30 days, I interpret the law to allow me to use Notice Leave beyond 30 days until someone bigger than I am tells me to stop.
Initial 10 Days of Investigative Leave: I have no problem with your interpretation. Close enough for FELTG work.
Employee Quits While on Investigative Leave: Nothing in this law nor any other law of which I’m aware requires an agency to continue an investigation beyond the separation of the employee. I’m not sure whether it came across in the webinar, but I think this whole record-annotation thing is misplaced effort and does little to improve our civil service while costing us the potential expense of a full blown MSPB appeal. The Latin term I am looking for is “stupid.” Therefore, unless a proverbial gun was placed to my head, I would do whatever is necessary to avoid any of this wasted effort, including discontinuing an investigation short of an adverse finding. Goodness knows we all have better things to do to help run the government.
And, another Notice leave related question:
During the webinar when discussing Notice Leave, Mr. Wiley made a comment that only 2 sentences would need to be added to a proposal notice. Unfortunately none of us attending the webinar caught what the 2 sentences were. Would it be possible to get that information?
Our FELTG best-guess response:
It’s always risky interpreting a law before we’ve had any interpretative guidance from the courts, but here’s what I think we need to say in the proposal letter:
“Effective immediately, I am placing you in a paid leave status during the notice period of this proposed removal. I have considered reassigning you to other duties and allowing you to take other leave, but it is my determination that these alternatives would jeopardize legitimate government interests.”
Since the employee cannot directly challenge being placed on Notice Leave, and since there would be no harmful error even if this language is subsequently found not to be correct, I’m standing by these two sentences until I hear differently.
Hope this helps. [email protected]