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Lawyer urges feds to follow 'obey-now-grieve-later' rule

The GSA spending scandal prompted federal employees to challenge inappropriate actions and expose misconduct. But a warning comes from a law firm that says workers who refuse questionable orders are committing insubordination, which could put their employment at risk.

“If your supervisor is telling you to do something, you could face suspension or removal if you fail to obey that order, regardless of how ludicrous or improper as it may sound, as long as what you are ordered to do does not constitute a crime” John Mahoney, partner and chair of the Labor and Employment Law Practice Group at Tully Rinckey PLLC, said in a statement.

”Even if you’re ordered to buy a $10,000 hammer, you’re usually better off doing it and then blowing the whistle,” he added.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has determined there’s an exception to this “obey-now-grieve-later” rule. Federal workers are allowed to disobey if the orders are illegal or could cause harm, Mahoney said. And those employees who do end up carrying out dubious orders are also protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

But exposing misconduct does come with some risks, he cautioned.

“In the federal government, employees must obey management’s rules and orders,” Mahoney said. “As hard as it is to obey some orders, it can be even harder to expose how wrong they are because of the risk of retaliation in the form of poor performance evaluations or other adverse actions.”

What do you think of Mahoney's advice? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to obey first, then complain later? And have you seen this rule stop federal employees from exposing wrongdoing?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Apr 27, 2012 at 12:19 PM


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