OPM’s Guidance on Firing Bad Employees Will Remind You That It’s Complicated

Agencies need to make better use of the probationary period, when workers have less recourse to dispute disciplinary actions.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday reminded federal managers that they have several tools at their disposal to discipline poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct.

OPM released 22-page guidance -- not intended to be “comprehensive” -- outlining the various disciplinary procedures for Title 5 employees, depending on whether the issue is performance-related, or a result of misconduct. The guidance walks agencies through the proper steps, including notification and documentation, required for suspending, reassigning, demoting and firing employees and members of the Senior Executive Service.  

“Maximizing employee performance and addressing misconduct, when appropriate, is a critical responsibility of managers and supervisors,” wrote acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in an accompanying memorandum. “If the available management tools are used appropriately and when needed, managers and supervisors have an opportunity to deter future performance or misconduct challenges, and employees have an opportunity to improve their performance or correct their behavior, all of which will benefit the agency.”

The OPM guidance, as government documents go, is pretty informative and jargon-free. But the guidance, which outlines an extensive process for many disciplinary actions, also is a reminder that the process for removing employees is rigorous and often lengthy. Managers need to know their options, but they also have to precisely follow proper procedure. Here’s a sample from the guidance on dealing with employees on removal options during the probationary period. Even that process has multiple moving parts, as described by OPM:

Employees may be terminated from employment during the probationary period for pre-employment reasons or for unacceptable performance or conduct. When removal is based on pre-employment issues, the employee is given advance notice, an opportunity to provide an explanation of the events related to pre-employment issues and an agency decision. When the basis for termination is unacceptable performance or conduct, advance notice of the intent to terminate is not required. However, the employee must be informed in writing of the reason for the summary termination. In either case, probationary employees have limited appeal rights, and also have Equal Employment Opportunity rights to challenge an action that is believed to have been taken for a discriminatory reason. An employee may also seek corrective action with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel if he or she believes the action was taken because of a prohibited personnel practice.

Still, the probationary period is the optimal time to deal with challenging employees and “avoid long-term problems,” OPM said. It’s a mechanism that managers often underutilize. “OPM agrees automated and timely notifications to supervisors can be a useful tool for agencies regarding probationary periods and should be used to the extent they are appropriate and available,” the guidance stated. The human resources systems used by federal shared service centers have this feature, but it’s up to agencies to use it.

The disciplinary process for performance problems is slightly different from the one used for those accused of misconduct. There also are different rules, steps and appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board depending on an employee’s probationary status, whether she is a member of the Senior Executive Service, or whether she is being disciplined for poor performance or misconduct. OPM outlined the requirements for initiating an adverse action for performance issues or misconduct under Chapter 43 and Chapter 75. While Chapter 75 is generally considered the “more streamlined approach,” it might not be the best approach, depending on the “facts of each case and the nature and strength of your evidence,” OPM noted.

OPM counseled agencies to take preventive actions to avoid performance problems or conduct issues before they happen. Among the best practices: clearly communicating performance standards and expectations to employees; providing regular feedback; and rewarding good performance, informally and formally. The agency also recommended maintaining “effective lines of communication” with their department’s human resources and legal offices.

The guidance on dealing with poor performers or employees involved in misconduct is part of the agency’s “series of instructive materials” to help agencies better manage their workforces, Cobert said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.