As a federal employee, it's all about merit

By The Office of Scaringi Law posted in Employment Law on Thursday, February 5, 2015.

Whether you're applying for a new position, in line for a promotion or have questions about your rights as a federal worker, the first place to turn is the all-important Merit System Principles.

These are the statutes that spell out how the federal government should go about the business of hiring, promoting and protecting federal civilian employees. The Merit System Principles can be found at Title 5 of the United States Code, Section 2301(b).

What's great about working for the federal government is the fact that the work rules aren't just crystal clear. They are a matter of law. The Merit System Principles mean exactly what Congress and the federal courts have said they mean.

In this and companion articles, I'll walk through each of the Merit System Principles to provide current or prospective federal employees a greater understanding of what this all-important code means to them and their careers.


Everyone's federal civilian career begins pretty much the same way: with a job opening, an application and an interview. But the hiring process must be conducted with the following Merit System Principles in mind:

"Recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a work force from all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity."

In other words, the federal government must be proactive in reaching out to all segments of American society to find the best and brightest employees among all races and cultures.

"All employees and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition, and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights."

Bottom line: The federal government, in seeking the best and brightest, must cast a blind eye to those things that can divide or differentiate us as Americans. Namely, politics, race, religion, sex, age and disability.

Show me the money

Congratulations! You got the job.

But now comes an equally important consideration: How much will you earn in your new federal civilian position?

Once again, the Merit System Principles have you covered:

"Equal pay should be provided for work of equal value, with appropriate consideration of both national and local rates paid by employers in the private sector, and appropriate incentives and recognition should be provided for excellence in performance."

The federal government is not allowed to play favorites when it comes to pay. And it certainly may not discriminate by paying women or minorities less for the same work. What is more, the Merit System Principles provide for actual merit, such as performance incentives and other recognition, monetary and otherwise, for great work.

Turning a federal job into a rewarding career

So you've landed that federal job. Now the task is to turn it into a career. Here's where the Merit System Principles call on you, the federal civilian employee, to hold up your end:

"All employees should maintain high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest."

If you don't, you could soon find yourself facing discipline or "adverse action," as these matters are known among federal employees. As outlined in previous articles, your federal government manager must prove that the alleged adverse action and the penalty being imposed are justified to "promote the efficiency of the federal service." There is an entire codified federal process for employee discipline and for employees to appeal those decisions and sanctions.

For now, we'll assume that your federal job performance is not only acceptable but worthy of consideration for a promotion.

Meanwhile, if you feel that your federal employment, pay or job candidacy wasn't handled according to the federal Merit System Principles as outlined above, it's time you talked to an attorney experienced in representing federal civilian employees.

In my almost 30 years of representing federal employees, I always tell clients that while the government offers plenty of job protections, the complexity of the regulations makes it imperative to have an attorney by your side who is well-versed in this area of employment law. I invite you to call me with your federal employment issue or case.

To learn more about how Scaringi Law can help you, call us toll-free at 877-LAW-2555 or email us at


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