Federal Manager’s Disciplinary and Adverse Action Working Papers

Taking an adverse or disciplinary action against a federal employee is complex and should not be undertaken without understanding the facts of a case.

I have been asked a number of times to provide a checklist for managers or advisors to use to make sure they have the information they need to decide whether discipline is warranted in a particular case. I believe there is more than one document that should be used in looking at a potential disciplinary case. In fact, if you want to do it right, you should develop a case file for the incident.

The better you do this, the more good news you will get. You will find that the human resources staff and agency lawyers may actually be glad to see you. Too much of the time, these folks have to redo work not done right the first time or in some cases start from scratch.

So what are these magic documents? Actually there are three:

  1. The Discipline/Adverse Action Worksheet,
  2. The Chronology of Events Template, and the
  3. Witness Affidavit Template.

(These items are in MS Word.)

These are essential working papers that build a case. They are meant to be used together to give the managers who propose or decide discipline what they need to make an informed decision. They should form the building blocks of a case file. If I were managing a group of discipline or adverse action advisors (or attorneys for that matter), I’d require the completion of these documents as a job requirement.

The Discipline/Adverse Action Worksheet Template

This is the principal working paper. If you use it or make your own version, the information obtained will lead you through the conceptual framework surrounding discipline in the Federal sector. It may be that in pursuing the facts, it becomes clear that insufficient evidence exists to support an action; a more or less severe action is considered or a different act or acts of misconduct are found that initially considered.

The Chronology of Events Template

A chronology of events is an extraordinary tool. If you are scrupulous in developing it, you’ll find the gaps in evidence that need to be filled. It will lead you to other witnesses and evidence. It will point out inconsistencies in witness statements. Frequently, the charges and specifications of an action will write themselves.

The Witness Affidavit Template

This is the Cadillac version of a witness statement. It seeks to anticipate and address a variety of problems that may arise in dealing with witnesses. Please don’t use this or take any statements from employees without seeking guidance from your agency counsel or an experienced employee relations practitioner. Please keep in mind that once you have taken the employee’s affidavit, you can ask further questions. While I am an advocate of not asking a witness to change a statement once written, requiring clarification or specific answers to specific questions after the statement is provided is the way to go in most cases.

While these working papers are quite straight forward, you will notice that their use requires knowledge of substantial employee relations concepts including, Douglas factors, and efficiency of the service and witness rights. Stay tuned, I’m planning a future series on dealing with these matters that I hope will be helpful.

As always, if there’s an opinion in here, it’s mine alone. If you use these materials without discussing their application with agency officials responsible for advising on employee relations, shame on you. Also, if you like, customize them for your agency’s peccadilloes. Not everyone is covered by all of the same rules any more.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.