Expanding the Probationary Period For New Federal Employees

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) has asked the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee to consider extending the probationary period covering new federal employees.

In a letter to the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Government Managers Coalition (GMC) and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) have asked the committee to consider extending the probationary period covering new federal employees.

The committee is expected to consider the proposal in its next scheduled session on January 12, 2016.

Presently, most new hires in the federal government have a one-year probationary period. During this time, employees are in an “at-will” status and can be terminated without the more lengthy procedures that protect employees with longer federal service. Supervisors are expected to use this time to assess employees’ performance and determine whether they are fit to do the intended job.

The GMC and NARFE are asking that Congress lengthen this probationary period by linking it to initial training. For example, if a new employee must undergo two months of formal training, the probationary period would be extended from 12 to 14 months to give managers more time to assess performance. If the formal training was less than one month, the probationary period would remain the initial 12 month period.

In the letter, the groups argue that “a one-size-fits-all probationary period does not reflect the complexity of duties and skill sets in the federal workforce. For some jobs, a one-year probationary period is completely adequate.”

They feel that “the existing probationary period often places an unfair burden on both the employee and the manager. In many cases, managers are placed in the position of having to decide whether to retain employees when they may not have had sufficient time, or even any time, to evaluate them.”

As part of the reform, the groups ask that federal managers be required to proactively certify that an employee has passed the probationary period, rather than the current situation where the probation period ends after the employee passes 366 days of employment.

This request follows a GAO report published in February 2015 titled Federal Workforce: Improved Supervision and Better Use of Probationary Periods Are Needed to Address Substandard Employee Performance (GAO-15-191).

The change would occur as part of proposed legislation that was introduced last July by Representative Ken Buck (R-Colorado) as H.R. 3023.

While older federal workers and managers might be supportive of the change, it is unclear how younger federal workers would feel about extending the time that they would need to work without the normal protections afforded most federal employees.

Proposing this extension comes with some risk to NARFE, which is struggling to attract younger federal employees as the federal workforce ages. There is a danger it could cause a rift between older, unaffected workers and younger feds and may cause younger employees to question whether NARFE truly represents their interests.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.