A Suspension By Another Name Is Still A Suspension

Sometimes, federal agencies will place an employee out of work without pay against the will of the employee. This happens primarily in situations where the employee has been suspended from work for any host of reasons, usually involving some finding of misconduct by the employer. In the federal government, most civil service employees cannot be suspended unless and until they are provided with due process – namely, written notice of a proposed disciplinary action and an opportunity to respond orally and in writing to that proposed disciplinary action.

However, in some circumstances, the employing agency will effectively suspend an employee by placing him or her out of work without pay, but will not call the action a “suspension.” When an Agency makes an employee choose between using her paid leave or being carried in a Leave Without Pay (LWOP) or Absent Without Leave (AWOL) status, it is called “enforced leave.”

In Pittman v. Merit Systems Protection Board, 832 F.2d 598 (Fed. Cir. 1987), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that an agency placing an employee on enforced leave due to a medical condition constituted an appealable suspension of more than fourteen (14) days. More recently, in Abbott v. U.S. Postal Service, 121 MSPR 294 (2014), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) confirmed the longstanding ruling from Pittman that an agency’s placement of an employee on enforced leave for more than 14 days constitutes a suspension that can be appealed to the MSPB.

Even more recently, in Martin v. U.S. Postal Service, 2016 MSPB 6 (2016), the Postal Service placed an employee in a Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status without her consent for a retroactive period of time, which the MSPB found to be an appealable suspension action. Because the Agency had never given the employee notice of a proposed suspension and an opportunity to respond, the MSPB reversed the LWOP status entirely by finding that the Agency suspended the employee without due process.

In cases like Abbott and Martin, the employing agency did not necessarily refer to the employment actions it took against those employees as being “suspensions,” but the MSPB still found that the Agency had effectively suspended the employees, requiring the Agency to carry the same burden of proof and provide the same due process guarantees as are required in any other suspension of greater than 14 days. (Suspensions for 14 days or less are typically not appealable to the MSPB.)

If you have been involuntarily placed out of work without pay and would like to discuss your situation with an attorney, please call the law firm of Bonney, Allenberg, & O’Reilly, P.C. to set up an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.