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JUNE 2016



“Ignorance of the law is no

excuse.” Many of us have

heard that legal principle,

but never thought it would

apply to us. Unfortunately,

we see too many cases

of well-intentioned, hard-

working employees who get

into trouble—sometimes

serious trouble—because

they didn’t know about (or

appreciate the seriousness

of) a particular offense.

Working together with

HR’s Conduct, Suitability

and Discipline division,

we’ve come up with a short-

list of the most common “I

didn’t realize I could get into

so much trouble for that”

offenses in the hope that our

members will read through

them, educate themselves

and prevent missteps in the


Failure to lock/alarm


Most employees

understand the need to

secure classified informa-

tion, but we see too many

cases of employees who

secure the information in a

safe, lock the safe and then

leave, failing to properly lock

and/or alarm the door to the

room. In addition to result-

ing in a security violation

or infraction, this offense

can also lead to a discipline


The department normally

proposes a letter of rep-

rimand, which remains in

your file for one year or one

promotion or tenure board

review. However, repeated

Ignorance of the Law Is Not an Excuse



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160

offense can lead to greater


Late payment of govern-

ment credit cards:

We often

see members complain that

they were late because of a

move or because they didn’t

realize that they should have

been receiving a bill. That

doesn’t change the fact that

they still need to pay the

outstanding card balance

each month. Penalties pro-

posed for late payment of a

government credit card are

generally suspensions rang-

ing from three to five days.

If an employee receives

a suspension of five days

or less, the discipline letter

remains in the employee’s

performance file for two

promotion or tenure board

reviews. In other words,

your chances for tenure or

promotion could be signifi-

cantly diminished for two

years because you failed

to make timely payments

on your government credit


Late or non-filing of

financial disclosure forms

(OGE-278 and OGE-450):

If you’re not sure whether

you’re required to file one or

both of these forms, consult

. Employees

who do not file on time

(or who do not request an

extension) can end up with

a fine of $200 and a letter

of reprimand in their file. It

is not worth jeopardizing a

promotion and/or perfor-

mance pay simply for failing

to file these important

forms, especially when you

can ask for an extension.

Misuse of a govern-

ment vehicle:

While we

haven’t seen as many cases

in this category, it’s still

an extremely important

one because the statutory

penalty for “willful misuse”

of a government vehicle is a

mandatory 30-day sus-

pension without pay. Any

suspension over five days

means that a discipline let-

ter will remain in an employ-

ee’s file until that employee

is tenured or promoted. It

can be very difficult to be

tenured or promoted with

this type of discipline letter

in your file.

14 FAM 433.3


certain exceptional circum-

stances in which a govern-

ment vehicle may be used

for personal reasons, but we

highly recommend that you

get written consent from the

appropriate management

official to use the govern-

ment vehicle in this capac-

ity to protect yourself from

disciplinary action.

Inappropriate com-


We have seen a sub-

stantial rise in disciplinary

actions arising from Office

of Civil Rights administra-

tive inquiries. Under 3 FAM 1525.2, OCR must inves-

tigate any allegations of

racial or sexual harassment.

Although there may not

be a finding of discrimina-

tion that meets the legal

standard of racial or sexual

harassment, an employee

can still face disciplinary

action (ranging from a letter

of reprimand to a multiple-

day suspension without

pay) based on inappropriate

comments or behavior.

We have seen cases

where employees face dis-

ciplinary action for verbal-

izing assumptions based

on stereotypes. Employees

have also been disciplined

for improper comments

made after hours and away

from the office. Our advice

is to be mindful of how your

comments and actions may

be interpreted by others.

You may not intend to be

offensive or inappropriate,

but the person with whom

you are communicating may

perceive things differently.


Unfortunately, we see too many cases

of well-intentioned, hard-working

employees who get into trouble—

sometimes serious trouble.