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Letters of Reprimand: The First Step In Progressive Discipline

The FAA’s Table of Penalties, which was recently subject to a series of unilateral changes, is used as a guide by FAA management when determining the appropriateness of discipline. The Table of Penalties consists of a range of penalties for each of the potential infractions. A majority of those charges allow for the possibility of a letter of reprimand as the first possible discipline imposed. While a letter of reprimand does not have the severity of a suspension or a removal, it is a matter that cannot be ignored.

First, an employee who has a letter of reprimand in his or her official personnel folder must be concerned that any subsequent allegation of misconduct will be treated as a second offense. It is important to note that the FAA’s Human Resources Operating Instruction regarding the Table of Penalties states that “[c]ontinued misconduct involving subsequent violations of rules or regulations may be considered under the second and third offense columns, even if the misconduct is different from that for which previously disciplined.” Thus, a previous letter of reprimand for a failure to follow the leave policies could result in the FAA’s treatment of a first instance of disrespectful behavior as a second offense.

Second, the fact that an individual has received a letter of reprimand for a specific offense buttresses the Agency’s argument for a harsher penalty at the time of a subsequent offense; the Agency will be able to argue that the employee was on notice that the alleged behavior was inappropriate.

Finally, a written letter of reprimand will be placed in an employee’s official personnel folder for a period of no longer than two years. While there is a possibility that the letter may be removed after a year if it is determined to no longer be warranted, an employee with a letter of reprimand in their file continues to operate with the discipline on their record.

With the help of a Union representative, an employee can work with management to have a letter of reprimand (and all records related to the reprimand) removed from the official personnel file prior to the one-year or two-year mark. When making an argument to management concerning the removal of the letter at a set time, it will be important to stress the relevant Douglas factors. If you are unable to obtain an earlier date for removal, you should attempt to have the letter removed from the file after one year and you must ensure that is removed from the file after two years. You should request a copy of your official personnel file in accordance with Article 22 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be certain that the information has been removed.

While there are sobering implications to receiving a letter of reprimand, a letter of reprimand is still preferable to receiving more severe discipline. Every FAA employee subject to discipline has a right to receive appropriate and progressive discipline. As such, if an employee and his or her representative can agree that an infraction has occurred, the argument for a letter of reprimand as a more appropriate penalty should be made. When a letter of reprimand is within the scope of the Agency’s potential discipline, there should be no excuse for management to skip this first and most proper level of discipline.