“Public employment” generally refers to employment by the state, a subdivision or agency of the state or, perhaps, employment by a county, city, or municipality, as opposed to work for a privately owned company. For example, people who work in fire departments, police departments, public hospitals, state universities and colleges, school districts, public utility departments, agricultural extension offices, or government administration are all public employees. “Public employment” also includes work for the federal government; however, federal government employees have rights and responsibilities that are even more complex than those of state or local government employees. Because of the complexity of the laws, rules and regulations applicable to federal government workers, there are attorneys who specialize in primarily representing these workers.
Generally speaking, when a public employee has a claim against his or her employer, the claim can involve many different rights and responsibilities. For example, because they are working for the government, public employees have the full protection of the Bill of Rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as rights under the State Constitution. This includes, to a limited degree, rights to procedural and substantive due process, freedom of speech and association, rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and, in addition, the right to equal protection of the laws. Moreover, in Georgia, there are a number of laws that protect public employees from adverse action by their employer. For instance, the Georgia Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation for complaining about what they reasonably believe to be violations of laws, rules or regulations. Unlike private employees, employees of the State of Georgia also have the right to file claims of discrimination with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. Also unlike private employees, public employees can make use of open records laws in order to see and understand the operations of their employers.
Because of the special rights that public employees have, their employer’s actions with respect to drug testing, surveillance, storage and retention of records, as well as discipline, up to and including terminations, are vastly different from and more regulated than similar actions by private employers. Public employees may also have more hurdles to clear in pursuing their claims. This is because, as the government, public employers often have varying degrees of immunity from suit for their actions.
Understanding the law and attempting to resolve employment claims in the public sector can be daunting, particularly when large government bureaucracies with unlimited funding are involved. If you are a public employee and are seeking legal help for employment-related matters, an attorney who is familiar with public sector legal issues will be able to assist you most effectively.
Mr. Beasley has extensive knowledge and experience in representing public employees. To further discuss your situation, you can call us toll free at (706) 769-4410, send us an e-mail, or fill out a consultation request form and we will contact you as soon as possible.