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Marsha411JD, Lawyer
Category: Military Law
Satisfied Customers: 20357
Experience:  Licensed attorney and former Navy JAG serving ashore, afloat and at the OJAG
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I am a DoD/DAF employee currently assigned to Yokota AB, Japan.

Customer Question

I am a DoD/DAF employee currently assigned to Yokota AB, Japan. I'm a member and regular participant in an online community/public discussion forum. The site is well known in our community for its "flame wars" and I'll be the first to admit things sometimes get pretty raw and feelings get hurt. The site has a disclaimer warning that "There are no rules" and "You may find posts on this page offensive", but it's a popular site with nearly 3,000 members. I never post on this page from my work station or from a government computer.

Recently, I posted a complaint on the page regarding how the base chool handled an incident involving my child. I didn't name names, call anyone names or disparage the school or its employees. I simply outlined what happened and that I was "seriously pissed". As expected, I received many colorful comments, including some bashing me for complaining and for not being appropriately thankful to first responders on the scene of the incident. In several of my own responses, I used profanity (very much the norm on this page), called someone's comment unbelievably stupid (I won't share my actual words, but I dropped the f-bomb) and I called another poster "Billy Bad-a**".

At work today I was informed by my supervisor that an anonymous complaint had been submitted through my installation's online Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) system about my posts on the site. This system is intended to be used for customer service and retail service interactions, allowing leadership to monitor customer service and satisfaction. I don't work in any sort of customer service arena, my duty location isn't even listed as an option in the system and it’s most definitely not intended for this type of complaint. I'm not sure how ICE comments are handled or routed, but this one made its way through all installation leadership before making its way to my commander and supervisor.

Needless to say, both are LIVID and pursuing disciplinary action against me. The entire situation seems ludicrous to me and I'm nearly 100% sure I didn't break any laws. I've always been extremely careful not to divulge any information online about where I work or what I do for a living, I've always been very cautious about what I write with regards XXXXX XXXXX military/government, etc and have tried hard to make sure no one knows that I'm a government employee for this exact reason. I keep my personal and professional life as separate as possible.

Did I break any laws by posting my (admittedly hostile) comments on this public site? The complaint claims I have “a long history of harassing and bullying” people in the group (untrue) and that my online behavior is “sickening” and “disgusting” and that as an employee of the government (which the complainant only assumes I am, simply because I’ve mentioned that I have a job) I should be held to a higher standard for my actions both “in and out of the office”. My supervisor seems to agree. I’m calling BS, but being overseas I have next to NO resources to defend myself. I’ve been told by the JAG office that they are only prosecutors in these types of cases and therefore can’t advise me. The Area Defense Council (ADC) is for active duty personnel only. There is no legal center for civilian employees, only an employee relations specialist who has been able to tell me absolutely nothing. I was actually giving HER information and regulations regarding this issue.

How do I defend myself? How do I know what my rights are? I’ve already been forced to write a “rebuttal” to the complaint, which I did. In the memo I just wrote a list of all the things I had NOT done (no bullying, harassing, defaming, claiming to rep the government, using a government PC for my posts, posting from my duty section, etc). It’s worth noting tha my supervisor really dislikes me and is always on the lookout for reasons to fire me, so he’ll pursue every possible angle.
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Military Law
Expert:  Marsha411JD replied 4 years ago.

Thank you for the information and your question. Nothing in what you have shared about your participation on this Site is unlawful. That said, you need to keep in mind, that at this point in time, employers may use off-duty conduct, including on social websites, as a basis for discipline and employment actions. In your case, the main issues would be the ones that you raised which are whether you made statements that connected you to the Government and then whether you engaged in behavior that was either insubordinate or disrespectful to the chain of command or brings dishonor to the Government. Of course, since you are in a foreign country the sensitivities, as you know, are even more heightened.

So, depending on whether or not you are in a union or a merit employee, you may have a right to appeal any disciplinary action that may occur. You should continue to focus your statements on what you have already done, which is to emphasis what you did not do. In the end, although you might be counseled about making statements that criticize any Government personnel or local host country personnel, I can't imagine the consequence would be more than that.

If you have any specific follow up questions please feel free to ask them.
Expert:  Marsha411JD replied 4 years ago.
Hello again,

I wanted to touch base with you and make sure that you did not have any follow up questions for me from the legal answer I provided you on the 19th. The Site has been a little buggy lately so the Experts are not always getting replies or ratings (which is how we get credit for our work) that the customer thinks have gone through. In your case I received neither. If you are having technical difficulties with reading, replying or rating, please let me know so that I can inform the Site administrator.

In any event, it was a pleasure assisting you and I would be glad to attempt to assist you further on this issue, or a new legal issue, if needed. You can bookmark my page at:

Thank you.