Post-employment: When are you seeking outside employment?
By April Pugh, ANAD Legal OfficeJuly 9, 2020
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- The assassination of President James Garfield in 1880 by a disappointed office seeker rallied public support for civil service reform.This reform started with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 and it continued with the Ethics in Government Act in 1978, which required financial disclosure by public officials and limited their outside employment and lobbying.This means there are legal requirements for employees while they are seeking to leave, and after they leave, government service.A key part of the 1978 ethics law addresses the so-called “revolving door” to limit the potential influence of private employment while performing government duties, eliminate the appearance of a federal employee “cashing in” on their “inside knowledge” and prevent the misuse of proprietary information gained while employed with the government.In fact, it is a federal crime to work on a government matter involving a private party if the federal employee is negotiating for employment with that private party.But, what does “negotiating” mean?The Office of Government Ethics has issued a regulation defining the requirement using the term “seeking employment.” An employee is “seeking employment” when he or she engages in discussions or communications with any person mutually conducted with a view toward reaching an agreement regarding possible employment with that person.The parties do not have to discuss specific terms and conditions of employment in a specific position for it to be “seeking employment.”Although asking for a job application or sending a résumé does not count as “seeking employment,” unsolicited communications originating from either the employee or private employer about prospective employment are included as seeking employment.Luckily, knowing when you stopped seeking employment is very easy. Seeking employment terminates if either party rejects the possibility of employment and all discussions stop or two months have passed since the submission of application materials and you received no response.But, note that anything short of rejection (for example, “I will think about it later” or “I am not sure”) will not stop the “seeking employment” rules from applying.If you want to be clear about rejecting an offer, saying, “all my time and attention right now are devoted to my government job and I am not in a position to discuss employment” or “the ethics rules do not permit me to discuss possible employment with you while I am working on your contract, so I am afraid my answer has to be ‘no,’” would be more effective.The rules, at times, seem complex, but help is available.If you are seeking employment, it is best to notify your supervisor in writing that you are doing so. This allows for discussion of avoiding conflicts and for legal review to ensure you are not violating the law.The Anniston Army Depot Legal Office can also help.A federal employee is entitled to legal advice on ethics post-employment and seeking employment rules.An employee who is considering employment outside the federal government can contact the ANAD Legal Office at 256-235-6518.Theodor Geisel, under his pseudonym Dr. Seuss, wrote, “So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s a great balancing act.”When it’s time to move on, follow the post-employment rules of the Ethics in Government Act!