Legislation has been introduced in the House that would extend the probationary period for newly hired federal employees from one year to two.
Known as the Ensuring A Qualified Civil Service (EQUALS) Act (H.R. 4182), the bill is sponsored by Congressman James Comer (R-KY). He says the bill is needed to help a common problem faced by federal managers: They do not have enough time to assess whether or not prospective employees are qualified for federal service before they become permanent members of the federal workforce.
The current one year probationary period allows federal managers to remove a federal employee without what Comer describes as the “lengthy and difficult process required for permanent employees.”
In addition to extending the probationary period, the bill also would give new hires time to complete required training or licensing programs before being evaluated on whether or not they can perform the job they were hired to do.
Additionally, the legislation would require agencies to notify managers when an employee’s probationary period is ending and requires federal supervisors to certify that the employee is qualified for conversion to career status.
The EQUALS Act addresses the findings from a 2015 GAO report which found that supervisors often do not utilize the probationary period for its intended purpose (evaluating new employees) because they often do not know when it is ending or they have not had sufficient time to observe and employee’s performance in all critical areas.
GAO noted in that report that it can take 6-12 months to fire an employee for performance reasons. This is considerably easier though during the probationary period.
This is not the first time Congress has tried to extend the probationary period. In 2011, Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL) put forth legislation that would have extended it to two years.
Federal employee unions may call the Equals Act anti-worker, even if the GAO itself recommended extending the probationary period beyond one year. But if you’re a newly-hired federal worker who needs some extra time to get on your feet, the Equals Act could be a job-saver. By extending the federal probationary period to two years, federal managers are able to extend new employees the benefit of the doubt. Under current rules, a federal manager has one and only one chance to terminate an underperforming employee: during that employee’s first year of work. If the employee is a borderline case, the smart move for the manager may be to let the employee go, even if he or she might improve over time. And that’s how it works: while employees with less than one year of service make up under 8 percent of the federal workforce, they constitute 36 percent of federal employees who are dismissed. Extending the probationary period for a second year gives federal managers more time to assess which employees have what it takes to serve the taxpayer over a lifetime of federal employment. And so borderline employees may get a second chance to prove themselves.
“Having served in both state and federal government, I’ve seen firsthand the critical importance of a qualified government workforce. The EQUALS Act will ensure the American people are served by a professional and competent civil service. It will also provide sufficient time for federal managers to assess the performance of probationary employees and for new hires to demonstrate proficiency in their roles. This legislation will benefit the federal workforce and, most importantly, the American people whom they serve,” said Congressman Comer.