Dear Bureaucrat,

I am a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, in the electronics shop as an electronic mechanic. When we changed commands, my mission went away. Our command says we no longer work on that equipment. I now essentially have no mission, no job. However, my leadership wants to be able to move me around and work in shops that need help. For instance, they would like me to work in a small arms shop for the next year to cover for a mission.

Do I have any rights to refuse them pushing me into work that is not on my position description and not related to what I was hired for? I don’t even care if they decide to get rid of me, as long as they have to pay me severance (which I’m eligible for with 16 years service). I also have concerns over the repetitive work in small arms, as I am a disabled veteran.

What rights do I have to refuse the work they want to assign me that is completely outside of my position?

Signed, Unwilling Utility Infielder

Dear Infielder,

I suggest you talk to your union. In federal workplaces, unions represent all workers who are eligible to join, whether or not you are a union member. They might have some inside information on what your command is willing to do. As to what an employee’s rights are, I asked expert federal employment lawyer Elaine L. Fitch from Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C. She gave the following as education for all of us, not legal advice on a particular matter:

If your job no longer exists for legitimate reasons, the Army has the right to reassign you. The directed reassignment can be to a position located anywhere. If the position is located in a different geographic area, you can decline the reassignment, but the Army can then remove you (you are entitled to certain benefits under this situation). If you decline a reassignment within your geographic area, you are not eligible for any career transition assistance or other benefits.

You are not eligible for severance if you decline a reasonable offer of assignment to another position. A reasonable offer must be in writing; within your commuting area (unless geographic mobility is a condition of your original position); of equal or greater tenure, the same work schedule (part time or full time), and not lower than two grade or pay levels below your current position; and you must meet the established qualifications for the position and the position must be in your agency or an agency that permits transfer of functions between agencies.

If a disability prevents you from performing the job to which they reassign you, you should immediately request a reasonable accommodation and provide medical documentation explaining why you cannot perform the repetitive work of the position. Being a disabled veteran does not automatically mean you are protected under the Rehabilitation Act; to establish a disability you must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities.

Dear Bureaucrat provides the federal workforce with the opportunity to submit questions about their careers to David S. Reed, founder of the Center for Public Administrators, a 501(c)(3) civil society organization that builds communities of practice in the public sector. Reed has spent 35 years in and around government. He has worked for large contractors, owned a small contractor, and is currently a government employee. He holds a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, and is a frequent speaker at public administration conferences.

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