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NOAA Workforce Management Office

Serving NOAA's Most Valuable Asset - People

How Do I Deal with an Employee's Misconduct?

Typical Misconduct Scenarios:

  1. An employee disrupts the office with aggressiveness and abusive behavior, affecting the morale and performance of others;
  2. an employee is insubordinate, refusing to follow direct orders; or
  3. an employee has a leave abuse problem or other time and attendance problem.


Employees may be disciplined for misconduct, which adversely affects the efficiency of the service. However, keep in mind that your goal is to change the employee's behavior, rather than to punish the employee.

Where Do I Start?

In the federal service, we practice progressive discipline. This means that you start with the lowest level of intervention possible to resolve a situation. The lowest level of intervention in Scenario 2) and 3) above would be a verbal warning. A verbal warning would not be appropriate for Scenario 1) because inappropriately aggressive and abusive behavior disrupts the workplace and may lead to complaints being filed against the agency. Work closely with your servicing HR Advisor, who will assist you in determining the correct way to handle a problem. In the world of employee relations, it pays to consult early and consult often. Even if you think you may not address a situation with an employee, run it by your HR Advisor. You may be advised, for example, on how to collect and preserve documentation that you would need if you do decide to take action.

As a manager, you play the primary role in making the case for taking disciplinary action against an employee. If a situation involves misconduct, the first question to ask is whether any discipline is appropriate; that is, whether any level of disciplinary action may be supported by sufficient facts to pass muster as justifiable discipline before an outside party. The key factors such a party will consider include the following:

  1. Do the facts establish the employee did - or failed to do - the things claimed? If not, discipline will not stand, since the employee is presumed innocent unless proven "guilty." Always interview the employee about the situation – be sure to hear the employee's side of the story. If an incident involves more than one employee, hear everyone's story, including any witnesses.

    Employees that are represented by a labor union (bargaining unit employees) have what are known as Weingarten Rights. This means that, if you begin asking a bargaining unit employee about a situation in the workplace and the employee believes that discipline may result from the questioning, then the employee may request union representation before continuing with the discussion. Once an employee makes a request for union representation, you must stop or reschedule the discussion, if necessary, to allow a union representative to be present.
  2. Did the employee's behavior, if proven, violate an established rule, regulation, or requirement? If not, any disciplinary action is doomed to reversal on review. This does not mean that there is a specific rule prohibiting every type of misconduct. A helpful tool in determining whether an employee's actions violate a workplace rule is the Table of Offenses and Penalties. The general prohibition against "conduct unbecoming a federal employee" is used as the rule against many types of misconduct.
  3. Did the employee know - or should have known - of the rule, regulation or requirement? If the rules have not been adequately communicated to employees, the employee cannot be held accountable for compliance with them. General rules are presumed to be known by all employees. Rules that you issue in your capacity as a manager, or that are peculiar to the area where you work, are a different story. Make sure you e-mail those rules to employees and save the e-mail showing date, time, and to whom the message was sent.
  4. Has the rule been enforced consistently? If not, discipline against an employee is likely to be considered arbitrary or discriminatory by a third party, regardless of how well the case is proven. This is an especially easy mistake to make with attendance issues. Before addressing an employee with poor attendance, check the attendance records of the other employees in your area to ensure you are treating everyone equally.

    Gather as much information as is readily available and contact your HR Advisor for assistance.

Rules and Flexibilities:

Time Frames:

A disciplinary action should be taken promptly after an instance of misconduct occurs. You must give an employee an opportunity to reply to a proposed suspension or removal. Contact your HR Advisor for appropriate time frames.

Good Management Practices:


A Note on SES........

Page last edited: May 28, 2014

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