What Are the Douglas Factors Concerning Federal Employee Discipline?


Federal employees accused of misconduct can face disciplinary action by the agency’s official. The official must review the circumstances and consider the Douglas Factors while deciding on an appropriate penalty.

It can be an uphill battle to defend yourself against the allegations made against you as a federal employee. You have specific rights and should understand how the Douglas Factors could affect your case.

What Are the Douglas Factors?

The Douglas Factors are among the most valuable factors used to determine the outcome of a disciplinary case against a federal employee. Unfortunately, most people don’t know about these factors and how to apply them to their legal issues. However, managers are familiar with these factors because they must use them when presiding over these types of cases.

In the Douglas v. Veterans Administration case, the Merit Systems Protection Board established twelve factors supervisors must consider when determining an appropriate penalty for a federal employee’s misconduct. These are known as the Douglas Factors. They include:

  • The type of employment and job level of the employee, including fiduciary or supervisory roles, public contact, and the position’s prominence
  • The nature and severity of the offense and how it’s associated with the employee’s position, responsibilities, and duties, including whether the employee’s actions were technical, intentional or inadvertent, or committed for gain or with malice or repeated frequently
  • Previous work history, including the employee’s ability to get along with co-workers, job performance, duration of service, and dependability
  • The impact of the offense on the employee’s ability to perform their job satisfactorily and the effect on the supervisor’s confidence in their employee’s abilities to perform duties assigned to them
  • Prior disciplinary record of the employee
  • The consistency of the proposed penalty with those other employees received for the same or similar misconduct
  • The employee’s rehabilitation potential
  • Mitigating circumstances associated with the offense, such as mental impairment, unusual job tensions, harassment, personality issues, malice, provocation, or bad faith on the part of other people involved in the situation
  • The notoriety of the offense or how it affects the agency’s reputation
  • The employee’s knowledge of the rules they violated during the misconduct or warning they received regarding the misconduct
  • The consistency of the punishment with an applicable table of penalties by the agency
  • The effectiveness and adequacy of an alternative penalty to deter the employee or others from the misconduct

Using these factors to defend yourself requires a comprehensive knowledge of each and how to apply them to your case. Since every federal employee’s case is different and includes unique elements, how you use the Douglas Factors will depend on the specific circumstances of the incident.

Mitigating factors and aggravating factors can be helpful in disciplinary action. A mitigating factor can reduce the penalty you face. For example, if this is the first time you’ve gotten in trouble at work, you could use your clean work history as a mitigating factor.

An aggravating factor is the direct opposite of a mitigating factor. The agency’s official could use it to justify the current punishment or even increase it. If you faced multiple disciplinary actions in the past, this would be an aggravating factor that could increase the penalty issued against you.

How We Can Help 

At the Vaughn Law Firm, we represent federal employees in Washington, DC, and Decatur, GA. We will protect your rights and fight to try to reach your desired outcome in your case.

We understand how overwhelming it can be to face an uncertain future. You don’t know if you will lose your job and how this legal matter will affect your ability to seek employment. You can count on us to be your advocate and provide the legal representation you deserve.

If you face disciplinary action as a federal employee in Decatur, GA, or Washington, DC, do not hesitate to call the federal employment law attorneys Vaughn Law Firm at 877-615-9495 for a free consultation.