Proposed workforce rules make it easier to fire, discipline feds

The Office of Personnel Management is following through on Trump administration plans to make it easier to fire and penalize federal employees.

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The Trump administration is following through on plans to make it easier to fire and penalize federal employees.

Under a new regulatory scheme proposed by the Office of Personnel Management published Sept. 17, agencies would have new requirements when it comes to advancing employees out of probationary status and new authority when it comes to disciplining, demoting and terminating the employment of feds accused of misconduct or persistent poor performance.

The proposed rules implement aspects of a May 2018 executive order designed to streamline removal and disciplinary procedures in the federal workplace. Some aspects of this order and two other Trump executive orders are still under a judicial injunction arising from a long-running union lawsuit, which is still under appeal.

According to the introductory text in the proposed rule, OPM "has and will continue to comply fully with the injunction, and will not issue regulations implementing the invalidated parts of the Executive Order as long as the judicial injunction is in place."

The new rules would end the practice of clearing employee records of misconduct complaints or adverse action as a condition of a settlement -- known as "clean record" agreements. The rules also task federal managers with making affirmative decisions about the fitness of a federal employee before the end of a probationary period of employment -- typically one year although sometimes more in positions where extensive training is required.

Under the plan OPM is also encouraging agencies to end the practice of using "tables of penalties" to forewarn employees of the disciplinary consequences of prohibited conduct. Such a punishment schedule can, OPM states, "foster a 'by-the-numbers' approach in which managers may hide behind a chart imposed from above rather than take direct responsibility for their workplace."

OPM is also seeking to limit performance plans -- periods of time given to employees to improve their job performance -- to 30 days.

The American Federation of Government Employees came out against the proposed rules.

"These proposed regulations encourage management by fear and intimidation and assume that managers are incapable of working with employees to help them improve their performance," AFGE National President J. David Cox said in a statement. "If these rules go into effect, they will greenlight arbitrary and discriminatory discipline against employees who will have little recourse to challenge poor or politically corrupt management."

Comments on the proposed regulations are due by Oct. 17.

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