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Should VA Be Able to Fire Employee Watching Porn?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin feels that Congress should provide him more disciplinary power to the VA when it comes to firing employees in certain situations. He is using a recent attempt to fire a pornography watching employee to demonstrate why.

The House passed legislation March 16 that cuts the advance written notice given to VA employees to ten (10) days. The bill, HR 1259, would also shorten the time employees have to appeal and require faster determinations from those who hear the appeals.

An employee at the VA Medical Center in Houston was caught watching pornography, in the presence of a veteran patient. But because of the current appeals process, the VA cannot yet fire the worker.

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs must continue to pay employees who are in the process of being removed. During this advance notice period, at least thirty (30) days from the date that the employee’s removal has been proposed, assuming there is no evidence that the employee has committed a crime, an employee must be paid.

If the employee has been assessed as a potential danger to veterans, the employee should be placed on administrative leave with pay. If the employee does not pose an immediate threat to veterans, they are typically placed on administrative duties that limit their contact with veterans and their families.

Secretary Shulkin is using this situation as an example of the department’s lengthy process for firing, demoting or suspending employees and why he thinks it needs to change.

It’s uncertain when the Senate will review the legislation, which has faced criticism from a federal union that believes it does away with employees’ due process rights. A similar bill stalled last year after passing the House.

“We’re taking a hard stance we want this employee removed, and we do not believe the current laws allow us to do that quickly enough,” Shulkin said.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has warned that the bill’s aggressiveness would lead to another stall in the Senate.

Walz said he supported giving Shulkin more firing authority but took issue with a part of the legislation that would remove employees’ options to initiate a grievance procedure through their unions. The American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents 220,000 VA employees, came out strongly against the bill — especially that provision.

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