FSGB’s Noteworthy Cases Filed in 2019 and Pending Decision

The following cases are extracted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s 2019 Annual Report dated February 2020:
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-045 was assigned to a country where the Zika virus was widespread. When his wife became pregnant, she was medically evacuated from the post. When the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, State/MED contacted grievant’s wife and instructed her to forward the results of genetic testing done on the fetus, and she complied. Grievant claims that the Department gained access to these records under false pretenses and shared them in violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). He has asked that State/MED destroy the records. The Department has asserted that the Board lacks jurisdiction over the claims, and that grievant’s redress is through the Privacy Act.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-036 is an employee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He was hired in a position that had a salary cap of FP-02. In 2012, grievant was assigned to a position designated FP1/SFS (Senior Foreign Service). Grievant claims that at the time it was agreed that a mechanism would be found to lift the cap so he could compete for promotion to the higher grade. In 2012, a personnel form SF-50 was issued showing a skill code change to effect the desired change in status. Subsequently, however, the Human Resources Office advised grievant that the conversion was done incorrectly and that he was not eligible for promotion until the issue was resolved. Grievant claims that despite repeated requests from him, nothing has been done.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-020 claims that the Department retaliated against him when he questioned three grant activities involving his predecessor on the grounds of conflict of interest and violations of the ethics regulations. He claims that, as a consequence, his responsibilities were reduced and, ultimately, he was asked to curtail from post.
FSGB Case No. 2019-008 involves four claims, one of which is being resolved separately. In the first three claims, grievant challenges the Developmental Areas of three EERs and a low-ranking statement. In the fourth claim, grievant contends that his security clearance was wrongfully suspended and revoked. Although his clearance has subsequently been reinstated, he claims that harm to his career resulted.
In FSGB Case No. 2019-052, the grievant was assigned to a country in which the ambassador was a political appointee of the previous administration. Grievant believed she enjoyed good relations with him, despite a number of difficult issues the embassy encountered. However, when the ambassador chose to leave post early, he advised grievant that he was requesting her involuntary curtailment. On the advice of colleagues, she instead opted for a voluntary curtailment. She claims that although she was told by post management at the time that she would not be receiving an EER, she was later given one for a four-month period. That EER was the basis for a low ranking. Grievant claims that the EER includes a number of falsely prejudicial statements as well as procedural errors.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-040 is a female officer who claims that an EER she received is the result of gender bias and retaliation on the part of her rater. The EER formed a basis for low ranking.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-039 was the subject of an investigation, on the basis of which the Department originally recommended a 45-day suspension. While the charges were pending, the grievant was reached for promotion; however, the promotion was withheld pending the close of the disciplinary proceedings. Grievant was advised at the time that if the charges were resolved satisfactorily, his promotion would be made retroactive. At the close of the disciplinary procedures a number of years later, the penalty was reduced to a letter of admonishment. However, the Department maintains that the White House currently will not forward recommendations for retroactive promotions to the Senate for confirmation. It therefore forwarded a recommendation for promotion in 2019, not to be retroactive. Grievant claims back pay and benefits to the time he was reached for promotion.
The grievants in FSGB Case No. 2019-021 are new FSOs hired while already living in the Washington, DC area. They claim that they were improperly denied locality pay while assigned to long-term training prior to their first overseas assignments.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-024 is part of a tandem couple. When she was assigned to her first overseas post, her husband was granted Leave Without Pay to accompany her. According to State regulations, his official assignment was therefore Washington, D.C. Grievant and her husband returned to Washington after that assignment, in transit to their next post, where she took home leave and annual leave and had four months of language training. Rather than considering grievant as being on TDY and thus entitled to receive per diem, the Department classified her as having the same status as her husband, a Washington-based assignment, in accordance with its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on tandem couples. Grievant contends this is a violation of Department regulations, which treat each member of the Service as individuals entitled to their own benefits. Approximately one year after the grievance was filed, the Department, with AFSA approval, modified the operative SOP to permit tandem employees in grievant’s circumstances to be on TDY and receive per diem; however, the Department maintains that the modification was not retroactive and, therefore, does not apply to grievant.

@StateDept FAQ: Zika Virus Infections – Updated May 27, 2016

Posted: 11:48 pm ET
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The State Department issued a Zika Travel Alert: Updated Guidance and New Information for Employees and Family Members (PDF) back in February 2016.  There is additional info here on Zika Medical Evacuations and on the Zika page.  Below is the latest FAQ on zika virus infections updated last week by state.gov. Click the lower righthand arrow to maximize the viewing box.

 

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What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home? #Zika

Posted: 2:14 am EDT
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During the February 5 Daily Press Briefing, State Department spox John Kirby talked about the zika virus. And he was asked this:

QUESTION: What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home?

MR KIRBY: At this time, I’m not aware of any warning to pregnant U.S. Government employees overseas in terms of coming home. These are obviously decisions that they have to make. But we are, however, just like we would for American citizens, certainly making sure that we’re providing our posts and our employees all the information that they need and that they have – that is available so that they can make these informed decisions. But I’m – I’m not aware of any order or requirement here at the State Department to order them back home.

But there’s a lot going on. And I can tell you Secretary Kerry is very focused on this. We were – he was talking about this just yesterday morning in a – I’m sorry, just this morning in a staff meeting, in a morning staff meeting. So it’s very much on his mind, and we’re going to continue to work with the interagency to do as much as we can. And obviously, it’s an evolving situation. As information becomes available or needs to change, we’ll change that.

We understand that an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medical evacuation from posts affected by Zika.

 

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Burn Bag: Will FSOs be allowed to Opt Out of WHA Zika-infected assignments?

Via Burn Bag:

Will FSOs be allowed to Opt Out of WHA Zika-infected assignments?   

“The safety of our employees is paramount and providing this option was the right thing to do under these circumstances,” said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.

Via giphy.com

Via giphy.com

 

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT
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According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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CDC Issues Zika Virus Guidance For 14 Countries and Territories in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 12:58 am EDT
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The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.  We have not seen any guidance from the State Department. If you are in the Foreign Service, pregnant, and assigned to these 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere, please contact State/MED for guidance.

Zika was reported for the first time in Brazil in May 2015, and the virus has since been reported in 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean:  Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  For a list of countries that have past and current evidence of the virus, please click here.

Map from cdc.gov

Map from cdc.gov

Below is an excerpt from the CDC announcement:

CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Because specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time, CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Check the CDC travel website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Four in five people who acquire Zika infection may have no symptoms. Illness from Zika is usually mild and does not require hospitalization. Travelers are strongly urged to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
    • Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents).
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Read the full announcement here.

CDC is reportedly working with public health experts across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take additional steps related to Zika.  In addition, efforts are also underway across HHS to develop vaccines, improved diagnostics and other countermeasures for Zika according to CDC.

 

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