Firing a New Fed Can Be a Good Thing

The probationary period is the last and possibly the most important step in the hiring process.

Talk about good timing.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has issued its new Issues of Merit newsletter and observes that agencies now have authority to hire people quickly and efficiently but that “faster may not always equal better.”

Presumably the author did not have in mind the recent report about the Forest Service employee arrested in a bar fight who had served 11 years of his 17 years sentence for a sex offense. The agency may have acted fast in hiring him based on his “fine recommendations” but must not have noticed or questioned the 11 year gap in his work record. An initial agency reaction is that “each job applicant is given equal consideration.”

The MSPB dryly notes in its new report that “…sometimes there is a downside to…speedy efforts to bring new employees on board….” Presumably, hiring an ex-con who failed to register as a sex offender would fall into this downside category.

So, having speedily hired a new employee who may not have all the qualifications your agency is seeking, what do you do next?

You can easily fire a new employee during the “probationary” period. The probationary period is often referred to as the last step in the hiring process and a supervisor can avoid a lot of paperwork, including most of the multiple appeals processes available to federal employees when they are fired.

The mistake many supervisors make is waiting until the very end (sometimes the last day) of the probationary period to try and take action. You need to contact your servicing personnel office and make sure you have followed the few requirements that do exist before giving your new hire his walking papers.

Some supervisors also decide to wait because they don’t want to be unkind or harbor a fear of complaints or grievances to take precedence over their better judgment. If you do this, even though you think you or your agency has made a mistake, there is a good chance you are buying a lot of expensive grief. A typical reaction is to transfer the poor performing loser on to a new, unsuspecting supervisor who will then have to deal with it and face the usual litany of appeals processes necessary to get rid of a problem employee.

Here is an interesting statistic from the MSPB. It looked at 145,000 federal new hires in fiscal year 2001 and 2002. It found that only three percent of these employees were terminated for unsatisfactory performance or conduct. But more than 16 percent quit or were moved during their probationary period.

The bottom line: The new faster, better, cheaper hiring processes now being used by agencies can be a good thing. But buyer beware. You will get more than a few lemons. Don’t skip the last step in the selection process–it may be the most important step and your last opportunity to avoid someone having to deal with a problem you created as a hiring official.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47