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September 29, 2023 Employment Law

The 14 Prohibited Personnel Practices for Federal Employees

Federal employees enjoy a wide range of protections beyond those available to employees in the private sector, including certain due process rights and protection from being terminated without warning. Another benefit of federal employment is protection from “prohibited personnel practices” (PPPs) — a set of 14 unlawful practices the federal government is prohibited from engaging in against employees and applicants. While some of those mirror general worker protections (e.g., discrimination), others are specific to the federal employment context. If you have been the subject of an adverse action that you believe was based on a PPP, a Norfolk federal employment attorney can help you argue your case. 

1. Discriminate for or Against Any Employee or Applicant

The federal government, like private employers, is prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation. This PPP is based on a variety of civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

2. Relying on Improper Considerations When Making Personnel Decisions 

This PPP generally is concerned with preventing the use of political influence or connections to obtain a position or promotion. It prohibits the federal government from considering recommendations about an employee or applicant unless the recommendation is based on the personal knowledge of the person making it. 

3. Coercing Political Activity 

While politics and the federal government are inextricably intertwined, the federal workplace strives to be politically neutral. As such, the federal government supervisor may not require employees to engage in political activities or retaliate against them for refusing to engage in political activities. 

4. Obstructing the Right to Compete for Employment

This PPP prohibits the federal government from intentionally obstructing a person’s right to compete for a job. This could occur, for example, when a supervisor falsely gives a subordinate an unsatisfactory performance review with the knowledge that the unsatisfactory rating will prevent the subordinate from competing for a promotion. 

5. Influencing Withdrawal From a Competition 

“Influencing withdrawal from a competition” means dissuading a potential job applicant from applying or pressuring a candidate to withdraw their application. This could occur, for example, when a hiring manager attempts to persuade a preferred candidate (such as a veteran) not to apply for a job in order to hire a less-preferred candidate. 

6. Unlawfully Granting a Preference or Advantage 

This PPP prevents the federal government from granting an unauthorized advantage to a particular job candidate. For example, assume that a hiring manager hopes to hire a friend for an open position, but the manager’s friend does not meet the qualifications. If the manager has the job notice rewritten to include the friend’s skills, that action may be considered an unlawful grant of preference. 

7. Nepotism 

“Nepotism” refers to the practice of granting an advantage to one’s family, friends, or associates. While nepotism is widespread in the private sector, it is unlawful in federal employment.   

8. Unlawfully Retaliating Against Whistleblowers 

In another area of overlap with general employee protections, the federal government is prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers. This PPP applies to employees who disclose violations of laws, gross mismanagement, waste of funds, abuse of authority, or danger to public health and safety. 

9. Retaliating Against Employees Who Engage in Protected Activities 

Whistleblowers are not the only employees who are protected from retaliation. The PPPs also prohibit the federal government from retaliating against employees who engage in a number of “protected activities,” including: 

  • Filing a complaint, grievance, or appeals
  • Testifying or helping someone else with one of the above activities
  • Cooperated in an investigation of unlawful activities
  • Refused to obey an order that would require the employee to violate a law, rule, or regulation

For more information about protected activities federal employees have a right to engage in, please speak to a Norfolk federal employment attorney.  

10. Discriminating for or Against Employees or Applicants for Behavior That Does Not Adversely Affect the Performance of the Employee or Applicant 

This PPP prevents discrimination beyond the categories enumerated in the PPP. It encompasses any behavior that does not have an adverse effect on an employee’s job performance. One of the most common examples of this type of discrimination is discrimination against employees for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

11. Violating Veterans’ Preference 

Veterans enjoy a preference in federal hiring. This generally means that a preference for veterans will place veteran applicants at the top of the list for open positions. A violation of veterans’ preference could occur when a hiring manager fails to rank veteran applicants appropriately.  

12. Violating Merit Systems Principles 

This PPP is somewhat of a “catch-all” provision. It generally prohibits the federal government from taking or failing to take any personnel action that is in conflict with any civil service law, rule, or regulation established by the Merit System Principles

13. Implementing Certain Nondisclosure Policies or Agreements 

Nondisclosure agreements are commonplace in both the private sector and the federal government. However, the federal government is prohibited from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements that do not contain a provision stating that the agreement does not apply to whistleblower rights.  

14. Improperly Accessing the Medical Records of Employees or Applicants in Furtherance of Another PPP  

This PPP prohibits a supervisor from accessing the medical records of an employee in combination with another PPP. This could occur, for example, when a supervisor accesses the medical records of the leading candidate for a promotion in order to use their contents to argue that that candidate should not obtain the promotion. 

Fight an Adverse Action With Help From a Norfolk Federal Employment Attorney 

The PPPs provide federal employees with a wide array of tools to fight back against unlawful adverse actions. If you believe that you have been the subject of an adverse action based on a PPP, an attorney can help you fight for your job. For more information, please contact a Norfolk federal employment attorney at Pierce / Jewett by calling 757-624-9323 or using our online contact form.