Federal Reductions in Force

For the federal government, “reduction of force” (RIF) is a term that basically means “layoff.” Federal employers and agencies are subject to specific rules regarding RIF actions. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is responsible for developing policies related to RIF actions and works to guide agencies through the process. When RIFs occur and are not executed properly, employees may be in the position to file lawsuits against their employer.

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When do agencies decide to implement RIFs?

If an agency is considering implementing an RIF, it must be for an appropriate reason, though agencies have moderately broad authority in determining the need for an RIF. If the agency is faced with a reduction or shortage of funding, does not have enough work for employees, is undergoing a reorganization, or if the agency’s duties are being outsourced, the agency can likely justify a RIF.

How does the agency decide which employees to let go and which to retain?

The agency must look at four factors when determining employee retention in an RIF. The OPM states that these factors are:

  • “Tenure of employment”

This means the type of employee. The agency places employees in three groups, career employees not serving a probationary period, career employees serving a probationary period (as in recent hires), and employees who are serving for a term or other “non-statute appointments.” Retention preference goes to career employees not subject to a  probationary period.

  • “Veterans’ preference”

Preference goes to veterans with service-related disabilities of at least 30 percent, followed by other service veterans, and finally, employees with no veteran preference.

  • “Total creditable Federal civilian and uniformed service”

Preference goes to employees with earlier service dates.

  • “Performance ratings”

Extra retention service credits are awarded to employees who have Service ratings of “Fully Successful,” “Exceeds Fully Successful,” and “Outstanding.”

Employees must be given notice at least 60 days prior to termination, though in some extreme cases, the OPM may allow an agency to give notice only 30 days prior to termination.

What if I believe I was treated unfairly in the RIF process?

If you believe the agency treated you unfairly, you may appeal to the Merit System Protection Board. You should also consider speaking with an employment attorney.

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