The defendants, federal employees, were subjected to adverse actions by their agencies. Each made false statements to agency investigators with respect to the misconduct with which they were charged. In each case, the agency additionally charged the false statement as a ground for adverse action, and the action taken against the employees were based in part on the added charge.
Whether the government may take adverse action against an employee for making a false statement during an agency investigation?
Yes. If answering an agency’s investigatory question could expose an employee to a criminal prosecution, he could exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, bus not lie.
The American legal system provides methods for challenging the government’s right to ask questions — lying is not one of them. A citizen can decline to answer the government’s question, or answer it honestly. However, a citizen may not knowingly and willfully answer with the government with a falsehood without repercussion.
If answering an agency’s investigatory question could expose an employee to a criminal prosecution, he may exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Court stated that “it may well be that an agency, in ascertaining the truth or falsity of the charge, would take into consideration the failure of the employee to respond.” The Fifth Amendment does not forbid adverse inferences against parties in civil or administrative actions when they refuse to testify. The Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent applies only to those cases with criminal ramifications.
522 U.S. 262, 118 S. Ct. 753 (1998)