When your livelihood is employment and employment requires a security clearance, it is only natural to worry about problems in the workplace that could derail your eligibility.

Most commonly, those problems manifest in the form of personality conflicts with colleagues, demanding supervisors, or an occasional failure to meet employer expectations (like showing up late to work). Fortunately, however, it is rare that such issues rise to the level of adversely impacting one’s security clearance. Here are the few situations in which they do:

Allegations of Moral Turpitude

Substantiated allegations of time-card fraud, embezzlement, or other integrity concerns strike at the very heart of the fiduciary relationship between a security clearance holder and the government. “If your employer can’t trust you, why should the government?” is the argument you should expect to hear. These concerns can sometimes be mitigated with passage of time, context, and/or a whole person argument. But if the evidence supports the charge, they can be difficult to overcome.

Similarly, any evidence of violence in the workplace or threats to engage in violence, however veiled, are a major concern in a post-Navy Yard, post-Ford Hood world.

Security Breaches

A demonstrated negligence in following security rules – and certainly any willful efforts to circumvent them – can become major problems. In most minor cases though, taking some remedial security training and showing that you take the matter seriously will be enough to overcome the concerns. Avoid repeated similar incidents by implementing safeguards. These can include scheduling automatic reminders to yourself to lock safes at days’ end or better organizing your workspace to prevent commingling classified and unclassified materials.

Repeated Failure to Follow Rules and Regulations

Any repeated failure to follow rules and regulations, particularly after being given a documented warning, evidences what the government might view as a flippant disdain for your employer. Good faith accidents happen on occasion and are not necessarily indicative of any fault. But repeated instances of similar behavior are no longer “accidents” and can be aggregated to comprise an allegation that the clearance holder lacks the requisite reliability, judgment and character to continue holding a clearance.

A Pattern of Unemployability

Employer reductions in force, a difficult job market, and other issues outside your control have no relevance to security clearance eligibility. But a series of job terminations or multiple instances of leaving jobs under unfavorable circumstances sometimes are viewed through the same lens as a repeated failure to follow rules and regulations described above. Take care to avoid that perception however possible – including by doing your due diligence on the organizational culture at a prospective employer prior to accepting a job to ensure it will be a good fit for your personality.

At some point or another during a career, almost everyone experiences adversity in the workplace. Most of these incidents – in fact, the vast majority of them – are minor and aren’t worth losing sleep over. But for those who fear that workplace-related problems could derail a security clearance, be sure to get out ahead of the process by keeping a good paper trail of the issues, maintaining all evidence of positive workplace performance (e.g. awards, promotions, and favorable performance appraisals), and maintaining connections with people who can provide favorable references from past employers.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com