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What should you do if you are called into a meeting and informed of your right to POPA representation?
If you wish to be represented by POPA, you should call the POPA Adverse Action Message Center at 571-272-7161 as soon as reasonably possible after receiving this proposed action (notice) and the supporting evidence (tabs). Please leave your name, USPTO phone number, cell phone number and a brief message regarding the nature of the proposed action (e.g., investigatory meeting, proposed suspension, proposed removal) and a POPA representative will contact you shortly. If you are not contacted by a POPA representative within at most one business day, you should contact one of the POPA officers; see www.POPA.org.
Do not go into the investigatory meeting alone! If you don’t hear from one of them directly, please inform one of the other POPA officers or your local POPA representative.
If you are called into a meeting in which the agency is investigating possible disciplinary action against you, prior to the meeting’s start the USPTO must inform you of the general nature of the meeting and of your right to POPA representation. (See the POPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article 4, Section 8.A, at www.popa.org).
You also have the right to request union representation as soon as you believe that disciplinary action may result from the meeting (Article 4, Section 8.B). If you request a POPA representative, the agency is obligated to wait a reasonable time to allow you to contact POPA and secure representation before proceeding with the meeting (Article 4, Section 8.C).
What is an Adverse Action and What, if anything, do I do?
Sometime during your USPTO career, your supervisor may walk into your office and announce that you are being “ invited” to an investigatory meeting, which basically means—no surprise—that the USPTO is investigating you. Knowing your rights can defend your job.
Despite the protections of the POPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the supervisor may refuse to provide you with any more information than you are supposed to appear at a certain date, time and location.Definitely ask for the topic of the meeting and/or what you are being investigated for.Then immediately, without further comment, arrange for a POPA representative to represent you at the investigatory meeting.You are entitled to this representation whether you are a probationary or career employee, so take advantage of it. Management may have several people across the table from you, including your supervisor, peppering you with questions at the investigatory meeting—you likely will welcome having someone with you who is knowledgeable about your statutory and contractual protections.
Don’t let your confidence in your performance lull you into complacency in an investigatory meeting with management. Even if you hold a law degree or are in law school, it is very unwise to represent yourself, as you will have no witness on your side while the USPTO may have several. One such employee had two management witnesses contradicting the statements and answers he believed he had given at the investigatory meeting.
No bargaining unit member need be embarrassed to ask for POPA representation because of the issues involved. Trust us, we have seen almost everything under the sun and a little embarrassment is far superior to being suspended without pay or being fired. POPA representatives are trained to protect the privacy of the employees they represent.You are entitled to and encouraged to get representation at an investigatory meeting whether you are a dues-paying member or not.
As a POPA bargaining unit member, be aware when a seemingly innocuous meeting with your supervisor suddenly turns into an investigatory meeting. For instance, you are in a meeting with your supervisor where you are being rated for the fiscal year and the supervisor starts asking you about personal Internet usage on the job.You need to recognize that at this point your supervisor has changed topics from one of job performance to one of conduct on the job and is investigating your Internet use. Stop the meeting at once and request representation by a POPA official if you are going to be questioned any further.
Article 4, Section 8(C) of your POPA contract provides, “If the employee requests a union representative, management shall be obligated to wait a reasonable time to allow the employee the opportunity to secure representation, before proceeding with the meeting.” Other examples of investigatory topics could be telephone usage, leave usage, accounting for hours of work, overtime work, and interactions with fellow employees, just to name a few. Remember: If it appears you are being questioned about your conduct on the job rather than your job performance under your performance appraisal plan, you are being investigated and need to find a POPA representative. See the roster of POPA representatives at www. popa. org under “ Contact” and under “Officers and Delegates.”To read your investigatory meeting rights, click on “Useful Info and Agreements” and “ Collective Bargaining Agreement” at Article 4, Section 8.