Earlier this year we talked about the strange case of Elizabeth Rivera, a VA worker in Puerto Rico who was dismissed from her government job with the VA because of missing too much time at work. Her reason for poor attendance was rather unique, given that she had been in jail for participating in an armed robbery. Never ones to allow a little thing like that to stand in the way of secure government employment, her union appealed the ruling and had her promptly reinstated at her position with back pay.
While this tale sounds like something out of an episode of Seinfeld, it’s not only true, but became even more twisted when the uncomfortable subject came up during some hearings in Congress. VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin was called in to provide some testimony to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and seemed a bit confused about her status, claiming at first that Rivera was no longer employed with the United States government. Upon further questioning he conceded that he didn’t know for sure and would get back to them.
Imagine his surprise when he learned the truth. (Government Executive)
On Friday, Shulkin made good on that promise, clarifying Rivera was reinstated to work as a clerk at the Puerto Rico facility “following administrative processes and court approval.” The undersecretary made his clarification in a public statement.
“I have clarified my statement, and will be formally responding to the committee,” Shulkin said, “but it is equally important to me that I provide the facts and set the record straight for our veterans, employees and the general public who entrust us with the care of the nation’s veterans and who expect us to be open and honest with them.”…
“In accordance with federal law, criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from federal employment,” Shulkin said. “As is true in private-sector employment, a federal employee generally cannot be terminated for off-duty misconduct unless there is a clear connection between the misconduct and the individual’s employment.”
Make sure you read that last paragraph carefully. Shulkin is claiming that he is powerless to remove Rivera because doing stick-up jobs isn’t cause for dismissal, just like in the private sector. You can check with any number of legal resources (such as this one) and find that private sector employees – particularly at will employees – can pretty much be fired at any time for any reason. When you go further and demonstrate that you represent a risk to the employer’s property or even their reputation, the question becomes even more irrelevant. If you’re sitting in jail for holding up a bank, odds are that you won’t have a job if and when you make bail or finish your sentence.
In fact, government work seems to be nearly the only place where one could get away with that. So if you’re planning on knocking over some convenience stores for extra cash in the near future, go land yourself a job with the VA. And be sure you join the union immediately.