Is discrimination to blame for employees' sinking satisfaction with training opportunities?

Monday - 3/17/2014, 10:47am EDT

Federal employees' satisfaction with workplace training opportunities hit a new low last year.

Only about half of federal workers surveyed by the Office of Personnel Management indicated they were satisfied with the training opportunities they received on the job.

Conventional wisdom points to the declining agency budget and the deep cuts to training budgets resulting from the across-the-board sequestration cuts.

But budget cuts, alone, can't explain employees' sinking satisfaction with training, according to a new analysis prepared by the Tully Rinckey law firm in Washington, D.C., which specializes in federal employment law.

"The reality is that when there's fewer and fewer dollars available to allocate toward employee training, federal employees are perceiving, at least, that those scarcer training opportunities are being provided to employees based upon prohibited personnel practice reasons," said John Mahoney, chairman of the firm's labor and employment practice group.

In other words, discrimination by managers in training opportunities could also be helping to fuel employee dissatisfaction, he said.

In fact, as dissatisfaction with training opportunities has intensified in recent years, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints alleging discrimination in training opportunities has also shot upwards, according to the firm's analysis.

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Source: Tully Rinckey

More employees are also reporting that managers have withheld "career enhancing" training opportunities as punishment for reporting agency misconduct.

Nearly 40 percent of employees alleging whisteblower retaliation in 2010 (the last year for which data is available) said it took the form of a denial of training opportunities, according to a 2011 Merit Systems Protection Board report. That's up from just 19 percent in 1992, according to MSPB.

Whistleblower retaliation is a prohibited personnel practice.

Employees are very attuned to training decisions, Mahoney said.

That's not surprising, since as federal work becomes more specialized and professionalized, training opportunities become key avenues for advancement.

"Obviously, as we've seen as the opportunities for training have gone down, the perception that part of the reason for that is prohibited personnel practice-based has gone up," he said. "So, it is very important that federal agencies, managers and executives within agencies are well-trained that taking or failing to take a training action is just as bad as a disciplinary action for a non-promotion when it comes to prohibited personnel practice law."

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