Do federal employees have the right to disregard presidential orders or administration policies they believe are illegal? That is a question that arose over Trump’s travel ban, which restricted immigration from certain Muslim majority countries, and may continue to arise if his influx of executive orders continue.
It is a tricky topic and refusing to implement policies, even when on the right side of the law, can have dangerous ramifications for federal employees. Case in point would be the now former acting attorney general Sally Yates who refused to defend Trump’s order in court. Shortly after her memo to the Justice Department, Yates was fired.
According to Debra D’Agostino, founding partner of the Federal Practice Group, employees need to obey orders, but they can later challenge the validity. However, D’Agostino also noted that sometimes “a federal employee may have to make a judgement call like any private sector employee would as to whether the benefits of the job override the employee’s objection to the employer’s policy and agenda.” With a few safeguards already in place for federal employees who refuse to follow illegitimate orders, and more on the way, perhaps following what is just as opposed to following orders will not be as costly.
With an administration that seems exceptionally hostile toward those who express their dissent, taking a stand against policies that violate the Constitution, statutes, or regulations is something some employees are ready to take, despite the fear of retaliation.
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