Defending Federal Employees in Disciplinary Cases

Our DC-Metropolitan Based Law Firm Specializes in Employment, Security Clearance, and Retirement Law.

Defending Thousands of Federal Employees Over the Past 25 Years in Disciplinary Cases

Approximately 20,000 federal employees are subject to disciplinary actions a year. Our nationwide federal employee lawyers represent federal employees in these disciplinary cases before their federal agencies. Each disciplinary action defense is unique and should be evaluated by attorneys familiar with federal employment law. 

The Disciplinary Process for Federal Employees

There are different types of disciplinary actions for federal employees. These vary and can include letters of counseling, reprimands, suspensions, demotions, and removals. For most serious disciplinary actions, referred to as adverse actions (usually removals), a federal employee first receives a notice of the proposed discipline and is given the opportunity to respond. A proposal will have an explanation of the conduct or issues leading to the proposed disciplinary action.  

If a federal employee is issued a notice of proposed disciplinary action, they will have the opportunity to contest it before it becomes final. Most permanent federal employees (past their probationary period) are entitled to significant due process rights. In responding, a federal employee can choose to provide a written response, an oral response, or both. We often recommend providing both oral and written responses.

Request Disciplinary Materials (Materials Relied Upon)

In most disciplinary cases, it is important for federal employees to request all of the materials that have been relied upon by the agency in proposing the discipline. Sometimes these are attached to the proposal, and other times they must be requested separately. We request these materials before responding on behalf of federal employees at the beginning of a case. These materials provide the basis for the proposed disciplinary action. 

Draft a Written Response

It is important to prepare a complete written response to the allegations in proposed disciplinary cases. These responses are typically 7 to 20 pages in length, depending on the underlying facts and number of charges and specifications. Most written responses are typically due anywhere from 7 to 30 days after a proposal is provided to a federal employee. The written response will address the alleged charges of misconduct or performance and any relevant mitigating factors (also known as the Douglas factors). In our responses, we also provide available evidence that contradicts the charges. Additionally, we attach declarations, affidavits, good performance records, character support letters, and other helpful exhibits.

Presenting the Oral Response 

The oral response portion of a federal employee’s response can be very important. While written responses can be critical in refuting specific allegations, there is something very important about personally meeting with a Deciding Official that is making the decision. We think that in serious cases, oral responses can make a significant difference in outcomes. We represent federal employees during oral responses. Typically, during an oral response, the federal employee, their attorney, and the Deciding Official (often with their counsel) will be present. The attorney and federal employee will get a chance to argue against the disciplinary action directly to the decisionmaker. After the oral response, there is usually a few weeks to a few months until a decision is made on the proposed discipline. During that time, there is also the possibility that attorneys from both sides can resolve the discipline through settlement.

Appeals from Adverse Disciplinary Decisions

If an unjust disciplinary decision is sustained by a federal agency, there are various options for federal employees to appeal further. If serious enough, an individual can appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Other potential appeals can include filing Equal Employment Opportunity complaints or whistleblower appeals, where applicable. There are also a number of other types of appeals that may be brought, but legal advice is important when making such decisions.


When a federal employee receives or anticipates a proposed disciplinary action, it is important to have an attorney represent or advise them from the beginning.  Our lawyers represent federal employees nationwide in all types of federal employee discipline. We can be contacted at or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. 

If you wish to explore legal representation, please call our office or use this form to inquire about our consultation process.

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