The Federal Termination Process

What Happens When a Federal Employee Gets Fired?

Unlike many at-will jobs in the private sector, federal employees can only be fired for cause. Additionally, depending on the specific circumstances of a federal employee’s termination, there are particular processes that the agency they are employed by must follow. Consequently, federal employees typically receive some sort of notice before being fired.

Below we will review the difference between terminations based on performance and those based on misconduct. We also provide an overview of what you can do if you have been terminated unfairly or unjustly.

Performance-Based Termination & Adverse Actions

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issues performance assessment regulations for the federal government. Additionally, they provide guidance on how a supervisor should document and notify employees of negative performance assessments. According to the OPM, employees “need to be notified of unacceptable performance,” and supervisors should not wait until annual appraisals to notify an employee that their performance is unacceptable.

Note: While the OPM regulates how unacceptable performance ratings are handled, each agency also has its own internal policies and procedures. These policies and procedures will further dictate how and when a supervisor should notify an employee of an unacceptable performance rating.

The Role of Performance Improvement Plans

In many cases, when a federal agency determines that an employee is not meeting performance requirements, it must provide the employee with the chance to rectify the situation and improve their performance. This opportunity for improvement is typically provided through the issuance of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

PIPs must include information regarding why the supervisor is giving the employee a poor rating, what the employee must do to receive a satisfactory rating, the consequences of not attaining a satisfactory rating, and the evaluation standards used to assess the employee. A PIP will also include the length of time (“opportunity period”) the employee has to improve their performance and comply with the PIP. Though this may seem like a good thing, PIPs frequently result in unfavorable outcomes for the employee.

Remember, a PIP may be a required precursor to the agency taking performance-based action against the employee. Therefore, if you have been issued a PIP, your supervisor or agency may already be considering taking action against you.

Misconduct-Based Termination

When a federal employee is fired for misconduct, they will not go through the same lengthy process as those who are terminated for performance-based reasons. However, depending on the nature of the misconduct, the employee may be given a reprimand or go through other disciplinary actions before they are terminated. Less commonly, a federal employee may even be offered the opportunity to resign to avoid being terminated.

Appealing Your Termination

You may have heard that it is notoriously difficult to fire a federal employee. In many ways, this is true. A major reason this reputation has developed is that federal employees can appeal performance-based and misconduct-based termination by filing a petition with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). This board is a quasi-judicial, independent federal agency tasked with reviewing adverse actions taken against federal employees, including termination.

If you have been fired unjustly or unfairly, you may have grounds to file an appeal with the MSPB. However, before filing your claim, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney experienced in managing MSPB appeals cases, like John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorney at Law. The appeals process can be complicated and lengthy; working with an attorney can help increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Were you terminated from your federal job? Contact our law firm to discuss your case. You may have grounds to file an appeal with the MSPB.