Federal Manager's Daily Report

Enactment earlier this year of the Follow the Rules Act has weakened the federal workplace principle of “obey now, grieve later” although the exact impact is still to be seen, the MSPB has said.

A recent publication noted that an employee may consider a workplace order to be “incorrect, improper or just a bad idea” but that failing to comply might lead to discipline. One exception traditionally has been that taking discipline against an employee for not following an order that would cause the employee to violate a law is a prohibited personnel practice.

“But what if the supervisor told the employee to do something that would violate a rule or regulation? Most employees would feel pretty uncomfortable violating a well-known human resources or procurement regulation, for example. Even so, until recently, they would have had to comply or potentially be subject to discipline because the PPPs did not include protections for refusing to carry out an order that violates a rule or regulation,” MSPB said.

The new law, however, extends the PPP protection to employees who refuse to obey an order that would cause them to violate even a rule or regulation. The law was enacted after discipline against an employee who refused to obey an order that he believed would cause him to violate the Federal Acquisition Regulations was upheld by both the MSPB and a federal appeals court.

“As with any change in statutory language, MSPB and its reviewing courts will have to wait for cases to come before them to determine how the change fits into the larger body of civil service laws. For now, it is important for employees and supervisors to know that the rules have changed and that “obey now, grieve later” has lost some of its power,” MSPB said.