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Employee Relations Employee Relations FAQs

  • Technically, the within-grade increase determination is based on the most recent rating of record as long as it was issued within the last year. However, the regulations provide that a supervisor, in making an "acceptable level of competence" determination, may issue a new rating if the most recent rating does not reflect the employee's current performance. Consider the case where an employee's within-grade increase is due in 3 weeks, the last rating was Fully Successful, and the employee was given an opportunity to improve that began last month. You would need to decide whether the employee's current performance has come back up to Fully Successful, and if so, you would approve the within-grade increase. However, it is more likely that the current performance is still below the acceptable level, in which case a new rating needs to be issued to support the denial of the within-grade increase.
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  • This answer depends largely on whether you proceed under Part 432 or Part 752. Under Part 432, you have the option of demotion or removal and you do not have to defend your reasoning for choosing either action. As was noted in Figure C, mitigation to a lesser action by a third party is not possible. So, if you meet the requirements of proving that the employee was unacceptable, even after being given an opportunity to improve, no third party can challenge your reasons for removing instead of demoting the employee. Therefore, your decision is based on your analysis of whether the employee can function acceptably in a lower graded position or not. Some agencies may have policies that require supervisors to explore demotion options before going to removal, but that policy would be an internal policy, not one that governs all Federal supervisors. However, reduction in the agency-selected penalty, known as mitigation, is a possibility in any action taken under Part 752. Therefore, you will need to explain in any decision notice, and possibly in a proposal notice as well, what factors led you to believe that your chosen action (suspension, demotion, or removal) was the right one. Most supervisors who have taken any kind of adverse action against an employee have been told about the Douglas factors. This is a reference to a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board that listed 12 factors that might be taken into consideration when deciding on the appropriate penalty in any adverse action. Your human resources office will be able to provide you with a copy of these factors. At this point, it is sufficient to understand that the factors force a deciding official to examine any issues that might support a more severe penalty as well as those circumstances that would convince the deciding official to lower the penalty.
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  • Yes. More than that, as the employee's supervisor and "rating official," it should be your goal to keep an employee informed about your assessment of his or her performance, particularly when that assessment is negative. Within your agency, there may be a policy or practice you must follow when you notify an employee that his or her performance has become unacceptable. You should contact your human resources office for further information.
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  • As a general rule, you should give your employee a copy of the notes from a discussion or meeting that pertain to your expectations and responsibilities as well as the employee's responsibilities. It is expected that you may take "supervisory" notes to serve as "memory joggers" regarding the employee's performance. For example, these notes can include dates or the number of times an employee was given an instruction. This type of "supervisory" information does not have to be included in the notes given to the employee. Contact your agency's legal counsel or human resources staff for information on Privacy Act requirements concerning supervisory notes.
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  • Although we focus a great deal in this booklet on supervisory responsibilities for informing and assisting an employee, the employee has the primary responsibility for improving his or her performance. An employee who gives the boss "the silent treatment" and refuses to accept any assistance runs the risk of failing to improve performance during the opportunity period and suffering the consequences. You may want to consider contacting your human resources office and asking if the agency uses trained mediators or facilitators to break through some communication problems. Regardless, an employee needs to be told what the expectations are for his or her performance and the consequences if these expectations are not met. Be sure to document your efforts to communicate these expectations and consequences.
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  • Generally, annual leave and leave without pay are discretionary based on the needs of the office and could be denied based on the importance of focusing on improving performance in the time allotted. However, sick leave, supported by acceptable documentation, must be approved as long as the employee follows agency procedures for requesting the leave. As noted earlier, you should be aware of certain programs under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the Family Friendly Leave Act of 1994 that may require you to approve leave.
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  • No. The law and regulations specifically exclude probationary/trial employees from the procedures that require the use of an opportunity to improve. This exclusion is because the entire probationary period is similar to an opportunity period. These employees should receive closer supervision, instruction, and training as needed during the first year of their employment.
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  • There is no legal obligation to provide counseling to an employee before beginning an opportunity period because of the employee's unacceptable performance. However, it is always good management practice to talk to an employee when his or her performance begins to slip below the acceptable level. Hopefully, early counseling efforts would be successful and there would be no need for a formal opportunity period.
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  • As stated earlier, if you take a performance-based action under Part 432, you must provide an employee with a formal opportunity to improve. On the other hand, Part 752 does not require a supervisor to provide an employee with such an opportunity. One reason for not providing an opportunity period may be that your employee has several years of experience in the job and additional training would prove useless. Another reason may be that your employee has already received extensive informal training and additional training or assistance would seem unreasonable.
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  • The question of who is "disabled" under the law is one that is still confusing to experts. In most cases, you will want to turn over any documentation you receive from the employee to the human resources office so that they can obtain a physician's review of the employee's medical documentation. Once you get a decision from the medical experts that the employee's condition significantly impacts his or her ability to perform, you will need to carefully consider what the employee is requesting in the way of accommodation and assess whether or not you can provide the accommodation.
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  • We have provided a sample of an action proposed under Part 432 in the appendix to this booklet, but the real answer to this question lies in your agency. Each agency has a "culture" that defines the amount of information and documentation that will go into a proposal notice. At a minimum, your notice will state which regulation the action is being taken under, specify what critical performance element(s) the employee failed to meet, cite the evidence of unacceptable performance, and discuss the opportunity period (or the lack of one). The notice will also explain to the employee the time allowed for a written and/or oral response. Ask your human resources specialist for some samples of other performance-based notices to get a sense of what your agency requires.
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  • Because the meeting is not disciplinary or investigatory in nature, you are not obligated to allow union representation. The purpose of the meeting is to explain your expectations of the employee and describe any specific efforts you will be making to assist the employee in improving his or her performance. Although any employee who is being told that his or her work is unacceptable will view this as a negative process, it is a meeting to discuss methods of assisting an employee and is not disciplinary or punitive in nature.
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  • One of the most important things to remember in taking notes is to date them so they reflect when you met with an employee or when you noted a particularly good or bad instance of performance. Keep track of specific examples of poor performance on work assignments. Doing so will make it easier for you to explain what's wrong with the employee's performance through the use of examples. Note how you expressed your performance expectations and how the employee responded to the counseling. Once an opportunity period (see Step Two for an explanation of an opportunity period) has begun, you will need to make notes of all routine meetings with the employee. In addition, you may need to keep a record of when assignments were given to the employee and what instructions were provided.
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  • Your first step always should be to convey a clear message to the employee about what your performance expectations are. Performance standards that do not relate to the job need to be rewritten so there will be no confusion between your oral instructions or written guidance and the performance standards themselves. If the new standards that you have written are substantially different from the old ones, you will need to give the employee a chance to work under the new standards before you determine whether or not the employee's performance is unacceptable. As discussed later in Step Three, you do not always need to rely on formal performance standards, depending on the legal authority under which you take action. But you run a serious risk of either having your action overturned or mitigated upon appeal if the employee can demonstrate that his or her performance expectations were not clear.
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  • Give supervisory feedback, provide remedial training, change work assignments, and assign a mentor.
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  • No, you should not wait. In fact, good managers provide their employees with performance feedback throughout the appraisal cycle. The Office of Personnel Management reinforces this in its regulations where it states that employees need to be notified of unacceptable performance, "At any time during the performance appraisal cycle that an employee's performance is determined to be unacceptable . . . ." Notice also that the Governmentwide regulations only call for a determination, not a formal rating of record. Check with your agency on your internal policy regarding whether or not a full performance rating needs to be prepared before you inform an employee of unacceptable performance. Remember, regardless of whatever agency requirements apply, no employee likes to feel "sandbagged" at appraisal time, so confront the poor performance as soon as you become aware of it.
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  • There is no requirement for formal classroom training. One option is to see how much of the training can be accomplished with the experts on your own staff. On-the-job training is probably the most common form of training provided during an opportunity period. Also, contact your agency training officer and find out what is available through self-instructional manuals, videos, or agency-funded training programs.
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  • The regulations require that an employee receive a decision in Part 432 actions within 30 days of the expiration of the 30-day notice period. This provision automatically gives you a 60-day period of time in which to work. Additionally, the Office of Personnel Management has issued regulations that give agencies the discretion to extend the initial 30-day notice period by another 30 days, so you are actually working within a 90-day timeframe. However, there are always those situations where even more time will be needed, perhaps because the employee has asked for a lengthy extension to prepare a response or the deciding official cannot gather and analyze all the information needed within the 90 days allowed. 5 CFR Part 432 lists six reasons that commonly cause delay and allows agencies to extend the notice period if those conditions exist. If your situation does not fall into any of the six categories, the regulations provide that OPM can approve an extension of the notice period based on a brief written request by the agency.
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  • Once you approve leave, you cannot hold the employee accountable for work that does not get done during the absence. In terms of short absences, you may not have to adjust the deadlines or requirements at all. However, if the employee is out for an extended time during the opportunity period, you may need to extend the opportunity period for the time of the absence to ensure that the employee has a chance to perform acceptably. Depending upon the nature of the work, an opportunity period shortened by approved absence may be valid if the work assignments and expectations were such that the employee still had the chance to demonstrate improved performance.
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