Federal civil service employees are, in many ways, the backbone of the government. As unelected, non-partisan civil servants, they’re hired on a competitive basis without considering political affiliations. They’re also entitled to civil service protections – including due process with regard to disciplinary matters and termination.

That due process, which is rooted in the Constitution, is one of the key protections that differentiates government employees from those in the private sector.

The executive order

However, a recent executive order strips those protections from some federal workers. The order creates a new category of excepted service positions (that is, those not entitled to civil service protections). The category – Schedule F – encompasses professional employees in policymaking positions.

These are not political appointees. Their positions are merit-based, and they serve on a long-term basis rather than for a single administration. Nonetheless, the order lumps them in with political appointees, making it easier to fire them without due process.

Which employees are impacted?

The exact positions haven’t yet been identified. The executive order requires federal agencies to submit a list of Schedule F positions by January 19 (just before Inauguration Day).

Among those likely impacted will be scientists, doctors, lawyers, economists and other professionals – experts in their fields – who play a pivotal role in advising elected officials.

Ongoing uncertainty

The order has been challenged on multiple fronts. Its validity will likely remain in question at least until the election results are solidified.

It’s a timely reminder that government workers at every level may be entitled to critical job protections. If you have questions about your position, talk to an employment lawyer about your rights.