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When you work for the federal government you not only perform a public service -- you are also expected to uphold a public trust. For that reason, federal employees are expected to adhere to high standards of ethics and conduct. A public employee's failure to adhere to codes of conduct and ethics might result in disciplinary action, including termination.
Obligations of Public Service
Federal regulations set forth 14 general principles of the federal employee code of ethics and conduct. These rules require federal employees to "place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain" and not engage in financial dealings that are in conflict with their public duties. Although many of these rules prohibit federal employees from capitalizing on their public positions for personal financial gain, the rules also require employees to put forth their best efforts in their job performance and encourage whistleblowing of waste, fraud and abuse.
General Code of Conduct
Many federal agencies maintain a list of proposed penalties for common conduct infractions. This misconduct includes penalties for time and attendance infractions, improper disclosure of sensitive government information, possessing or working under the influence of drugs or alcohol, discourtesy, lying, threats, fighting, insubordination, sleeping on the job, gambling, and unauthorized possession of a gun.
Prohibited Personnel Practices and Political Activity
The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is a federal law enforcement agency that investigates and prosecutes federal, state and local employees for using their offices for political campaign work. It also prosecutes federal employees for engaging in prohibited personnel practices. Under the Hatch Act, federal employees -- and any state and local government employees who are funded with federal money -- are forbidden from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty or while using government resources. Federal employees also are prohibited from engaging in nepotism during the hiring process, violating veteran's hiring rights, creating unfair hiring conditions by violating the merit systems principles, or retaliating against whistle-blowers. The OSC can prosecute violators of the Hatch Act, or those who engage in prohibited personnel practices, before an independent federal agency called the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB"). If an Administrative Law Judge agrees that the employee engaged in prohibited conduct, the MSPB will order the government employer to discipline the employee.
Federal law prohibits employment discrimination, including pay discrimination, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability and genetic information. All federal agencies are required to have published rules against discrimination in the workplace and impose severe punishment on employees who violate these rules. These anti-discrimination policies prohibit discrimination in hiring processes, promotions, assignment of duties and other employment decisions. These rules also prohibit sexual harassment and other conditions that create a hostile work environment.
- United States Office of Government Ethics: Mission & Responsibilities
- Cornell University Law School: 5 CFR 2635.101 - Basic Obligation of Public Service
- National Federation of Federal Employees: Table of Offenses and Penalties
- United States Office of Special Counsel: Political Activity (Hatch Act)
- United States Office of Special Counsel: About PPP
- United States Merit Systems Protection Board: Merit System Principles (5 USC § 2301)
- United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Equal Pay in the Federal Government
- United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Directives & Guidance
- United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
Kevin Owen has been a professional writer since 2005. He served as an editor for the American Bar Association's "Administrative Law Review." Owen is an employment litigator in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and practices before various state and federal trial and appellate courts. He earned his Juris Doctor from American University.