What is Conduct Unbecoming of a Federal Employee?

“Conduct unbecoming for federal employees” refers to actions or behaviors by individuals working for the federal government that are considered inappropriate, unethical, or in violation of the standards of conduct expected of federal employees. These actions can include activities that undermine public trust, violate laws, or breach the principles of integrity, professionalism, and ethical behavior that are essential in government service. Depending on the specific circumstances, such conduct can result in disciplinary actions or even termination of employment. 

When an Agency charges an employee with a generic charge such as Conduct Unbecoming or Improper Conduct, an agency is required to demonstrate that the employee engaged in the underlying conduct alleged in support of the broad label to sustain the charge. See Canada v. Dept of Homeland Security, 113 M.S.P.R. 509, ¶ 9 (2010). The conduct must also be actual misconduct, meaning that an agency cannot discipline a federal employee for conduct that is not actually unbecoming or improper. 

Often times, sexual harassment or related sexual misconduct is labeled as improper conduct. When an agency does this, to sustain the charge it need not show that the conduct would have been a violation of Title VII (which prohibits sexual harassment); rather, the agency just has to show that the employee acted in the inappropriate manner described in the Notice. 

Combating a Conduct Unbecoming Charge

Defending against a “conduct unbecoming” charge for a federal employee can be a complex and challenging process. It’s essential to understand the specific details of the charge, consult with legal counsel, and follow the appropriate procedures. Here are some general steps to take when defending against such a charge: 

Understand the Charge: Review the charge and the specific allegations against you. Ensure you have a clear understanding of what is being claimed and the basis for the charge. 

Consult with an Attorney: Our team of federal employment attorneys experienced in federal employment law, administrative law, or labor law. We can provide you with expert guidance and representation. 

Review Agency Policies and Regulations: Familiarize yourself with your agency’s policies, regulations, and employee handbook. Understanding the rules and standards of conduct is crucial for your defense. 

Gather Evidence: Collect all relevant evidence that supports your case. This may include emails, documents, witness statements, or any other information that can help prove your innocence or demonstrate that the charge is unwarranted. 

Maintain a Detailed Record: Keep a thorough record of all communications, events, and interactions related to the charge. This record may be valuable in supporting your defense. 

Identify Witnesses: If there are individuals who can vouch for your behavior or testify on your behalf, identify and contact them. Witnesses can provide valuable statements in support of your defense. 

Develop a Defense Strategy: Our attorneys will work with you to develop a defense strategy. This may involve challenging the evidence presented against you, questioning the credibility of the accusers, or demonstrating that the alleged behavior does not meet the criteria for “conduct unbecoming.” 

Cooperate with the Investigation: If there is an internal investigation, cooperate fully while being mindful of your rights. You have the right to remain silent, but you should also be respectful and responsive to your agency’s inquiries. 

Attend Administrative Hearings: If the charge progresses to an administrative hearing, ensure that you attend and are adequately prepared. We can help you navigate the hearing process. 

Appeal: If the initial outcome is not in your favor, we will discuss the possibility of appealing the decision. There may be additional avenues for challenging the charge or seeking a reversal of the decision. 

Be Prepared for Disciplinary Actions: In the event the charge is upheld, be prepared for potential disciplinary actions. We will review the potential consequences and the best course of action. 

Maintain Professional Conduct: Throughout the process, continue to conduct yourself professionally and in accordance with agency regulations. Avoid any behavior that could further harm your case. 

Federal Employment Attorneys You Can Trust

Each conduct unbecoming case is unique, and the specific steps required may vary based on the circumstances and the agency’s procedures. Our team of attorneys are experienced in federal employment matters and can tailor a defense strategy to your specific situation. 

If you or someone you know has been charged with conduct unbecoming or of inappropriate conduct, contact us today. 

What Makes Us Different

From EEO complaints to adverse actions, our experienced federal employment attorneys ensure your entitlement to due process and legal representation every step of the way.

Represent government employees at all federal agencies, nationwide and overseas

Highly-skilled MSPB appeals attorneys with a proven track record

Notable success in EEO complaints and appeals

Frequently Asked Questions

Federal employees are protected from discrimination based on sex, gender, color, race, national origin, religion, age, and disability, and have the right to file an EEO complaint against their agency should they face discrimination. Federal employees also have the right to due process before being subjected to an adverse action  

Yes, federal employees can sue for discrimination, but first you must exhaust administrative remedies, which includes filing a formal complaint with your agency and letting 180 days pass. In many instances, federal employees elect to pursue their EEO complaints through the EEOC’s hearing process instead of filing a civil action. 

Federal employees must initiate contact with an EEO Counselor within 45 days of any act of discrimination. After an informal complaint stage, you will be issued a Notice of Right to File a formal complaint, which will permit you 15 days to do so.  

Federal employees do not have the right to sue for wrongful termination the way private sector employees do, but most federal employees have the right to appeal a removal to the MSPB, which will adjudicate whether the Agency can sustain any charges raised against you.  

Yes, most federal employees can file a complaint against their agency with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) if they are facing whistleblower retaliation. If OSC does not accept your complaint for investigation and prosecution, OSC will issue you an Individual Right of Action (IRA) notice giving you the right to pursue corrective action at the MSPB. Federal employees do not have the right to sue in court under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Contact Our Team today. We're here to help.