Court upholds demotion for no-show employee

A recent ruling from the Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. Postal Service decision to demote an employee charged with unsatisfactory attendance. The employee Roger T. Williams had been absent without leave for 40 hours over a three-week period in March and April of 1995. An administrative law judge determined that Williams failed to properly notify his supervisors in advance of his absences or provide an adequate reason for his disappearances. But the judge also softened the punishment meted out by USPS. The agency wanted to demote Williams from a supervisor an EAS-16 position to a part-time flexible mail handler a PS-04 position. Considering Williams' 15 years of service and excellent employment record the judge told USPS to demote him no lower than the PS-06 level. Point Counterpoint In arguing the Postal Service's action Williams said he met the performance standards established for his job except for one element: attendance. He argued that a prior case (Myers v. E.E.O.C. 45 M.S.P.R. 488 1990) had established that an employee cannot be demoted for unacceptable performance if he fails on only one critical performance element.

However the court said Williams improperly interpreted the Myers case. It ruled that there is no statute or regulation that prohibits demotion because of unsatisfactory attendance. In addition the court noted that Williams was demoted as a result of disciplinary proceedings not because of a performance review.

Williams also contended that his potential for rehabilitation should have been evaluated by his agency and the administrative law judge before the decision to demote him. Williams cited a number of cases purportedly in support of his position.

But the court said these cases merely show that an agency may consider mitigating circumstances in setting a disciplinary penalty. In fact the court said Williams' 15 years of service and excellent employment record were considered. Because of his excellent record he was demoted to the PS-06 level and not all the way down to PS-04.

Williams did not get a raw deal as he contended. Absence without leave is grounds for dismissal and/or demotion depending on the type of job held and the expectations of the agency. Someone who behaves the way Williams did cannot be depended upon. And for some jobs that dependability is crucial. (Roger T. Williams v. U.S. Postal Service U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Case No. 96-3307 decided Oct. 16 1996.)

-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week.

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