The numbers reported in the October 20th Washington Post article of federal employees placed on administrative leave after being accused of misconduct are staggering:
- More than 50,000 on leave up to three months;
- 4,000 on leave three months to a year; and
- Several hundred on leave from one to three years.
This is probably not a shock to those who work for the federal government. It wasn’t a surprise to us either – we saw this a lot when we worked in the government.
Why are these numbers so high? Because it’s easier to get the accused employee out of the office rather than deal with the issue head-on. The problem is once the person is removed from the equation, it’s easy to lose the sense of urgency, and so a person remains out of the office indefinitely. The cliché -out of sight- out of mind fits here. A second reason is that despite the practice being contrary to numerous Comptroller General decisions and OPM guidance on the appropriate range for administrative leave, there is no consequence for the agency. It’s likely that government officials will be doing a quick assessment to see who they currently have on admin leave and work on a plan to get them back to work. It’s also likely Congress will come up with something in the area of accountability given the level of outrage expressed in the Post article.In the meantime, here are basic steps management should follow when faced with allegations of misconduct:
- Develop a plan of action. Immediately assemble the right team of advisers to investigate the allegations with firm deadlines. The key is to do this quickly. Your team should include whatever subject matter experts are necessary (HR, LR, EEO, OGC). Notify management and obtain approval if necessary.
- Advise the accused employee of what to expect. It’s important to communicate with the employee accused of misconduct of the plan of action, and what s/he will be expected to do during the course of the investigation. Here is where many supervisors are making the easy call of placing the employee on administrative leave until the investigation is done. Exercise extreme caution when authorizing admin leave. Consult with your legal counsel, but generally, you only need to take the person out of the workplace if they are a danger to themselves or others; if there is an issue of trust of the employee continuing to access their files or the agency network; or there’s a concern the employee will cause a disruption in the workplace.
- Conduct an inquiry into the allegation. The scope of the inquiry depends on the allegations. You may just need basic fact-finding, or you may have to convene an administrative investigative board.
- Stay on top of the team conducting the inquiry. Inquiries performed by internal teams often take longer because of conflicting priorities or lack of investigative expertise. Communicate regularly with the team to ensure they will meet the deadline you’ve given them.
- Review the findings of the team and take the appropriate action. Either there is evidence of misconduct or there isn’t. If there isn’t evidence, communicate that to the accused and other interested parties and get back to business as usual. If there is evidence of misconduct, work with HR to craft the appropriate corrective action and take action
Dealing with misconduct is never easy. You’ll stay out of the Washington Post if you deal with the issue head-on and promptly.
What steps have you taken when faced with allegations of employee misconduct?