I work for the government, are the rules any different for me?
Oftentimes, government employees have greater workplace protections than their counterparts in the private sector. Often, these protections stem from rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
The Constitution provides protections to governmental employees in different ways, however, the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment typically provide the greatest protections. Under the First Amendment, a governmental employer can not retaliate against an employee who exercises their right to speak out. While there are limitations to this prohibition, the law recognizes that governmental employees can not be silenced merely because they work for the government.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that many governmental employees can not be suspended or fired unless they are provided due process. This typically requires some type of a formalized opportunity to respond to allegations that have been raised against them. There are a multitude of commissions and boards that have been established to assess discipline for governmental employees.
Government employees might also have rights to representation while an internal investigation is ongoing. It should be noted that not every governmental employer is required to allow its employees to be represented by an attorney during an internal investigation, however, a good number of them do.
Should I consult with a lawyer?
Understanding your rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments can be quite difficult. If you work for the government and feel as though your rights are being violated, you should definitely consult with an attorney. At BB+K we spend a good amount of time representing governmental employees who are going through any challenging situations at work. Perhaps you are being investigated for allegations of wrongdoing and you want to insure that you are fully aware of your rights. Maybe you feel as though your political activity is causing problems for you at work. It is possible that you want to file an internal complaint at work, however, you do not fully understand how the process works. These are only three of the myriad of possible situations that might arise for a governmental employee. These situations are all unique and consulting with an experienced attorney can pay significant dividends.
Should I use an attorney or my union if I am being disciplined?
Oftentimes, governmental employees who are facing discipline must choose between a union grievance proceeding and hiring a private attorney to represent them before a board or commission. The question that is often asked by these employees is whether they are better off with the union process or hiring their own attorney.
This question is vexing and can be difficult to answer. There are certainly benefits to having union representation. For example, unions typically do not charge the employee anything (outside of normal union dues) for their representation and the forum can be more advantageous (union arbitration vs. board proceeding). Unfortunately, employees cede almost all control over their disciplinary cases to unions when they go that route. This means that the final decision on how far to push the matter is left to the discretion of the union. Further, the amount of work done to prepare can differ greatly depending upon the union.
If you find yourself in the position of trying to decide whether you should pursue a union grievance or have the matter handled by a private attorney, it is best to at least consult with a competent attorney. At BB+K we consult with union employees on these issues frequently and, oftentimes, we encourage them to go through the grievance process. The ultimate decision should be one that is carefully contemplated. At BB+K we will explain to you your rights and aid you in carefully weighing the pros and cons of how it is best for you to proceed.