By William Wiley, March 15, 2017

Questions, we get questions. And sometimes it takes us a couple of responses to flesh things out. From an inquisitive (and patient) FELTG-ite:

Dear FELTG Brilliant Minds-

I have a hypothetical question.  If you have a probationary employee with full appeal rights that is not performing at a satisfactory level; the manager does not want to put the employee on performance assistance because s/he is a probationary employee; but the manager wants to remove the employee, what is the charge?  Failure to successfully complete a probationary period?  If so, would the specifications be examples of his/her poor performance? How would you proceed?

And here’s our “brilliant” (though incomplete) first response:

Thanks for your email. With probationers, there is no charge. We just tell them that today is their last day of employment and hand them an SF-50 documenting their removal.

Although this is the minimum legal approach, here are options I’ve used over the years. They are all equally safe from a legal standpoint. The choice really is a personal one depending in large part on your philosophy of life:

  1. Notify him today that he’s being separated at the end of the pay period. Send him home and he gets paid until the end.
  2. Along with the SF-50, give him a memo from the supervisor that says something benign such as “Effective today, I am separating you from employment during your probationary period. You have failed to demonstrate the qualifications and characteristics necessary for an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
  3. Have the supervisor talk with him, perhaps along with an HR specialist and tell him that he has not successfully performed as a probationer and that you intend to separate him at the end of the week. Then, tell him that if he would prefer to resign now, the separation will be reflected as a voluntary resignation rather than as a termination during probation. Some employees see this as a “clean record” resolution although as a practical matter, it might not be as clean as he would like.

Personally, I like No. 3 if the employee is otherwise a good person. I try to use the tone, It’s not you; it’s me: “Hey, this didn’t work out in this particular job. But we sometimes have other jobs open up here at EPA that might be a better fit. I hope you apply for them and are successful in some other type of work, especially if you get a little more education or experience in the field.”

However you do it, here is what I ABSOLUTELY ALWAYS have the supervisor do: draft a memo for the record that describes whatever it is the employee has done that warrants removal: dates, specific failures, witnesses. Stick that in the file (don’t give it to the employee) and use it defensively if/when the employee files an EEO complaint.

And then, our questioner’s response:

That’s just great. Thanks so much. That’s a very good way to terminate a probationer in most situations and I’ll make sure that we implement that approach office-wide. However, did you get the part of my question that says THE EMPLOYEE HAS FULL RIGHTS to the Board? She has completed more than a year of current continuous service without a break from another position within the agency.

Oops, we sort of missed that in our haste to respond promptly. Thank goodness that our reader did not give up on us.

Then, we’re into a notice letter, a response, and a decision. In the notice letter, I would charge the incidents of poor performance that have occurred that cause the supervisor to decide to terminate the individual. Something like this:

By this memo, I am proposing that you be terminated during probation based on the following incidents:

Charge:  Deficient Performance

Specification A:  On February 21, 2017, you painted the walls in your office navy blue. I had told you previously to paint the walls white.

Specification B:  On February 17, 2017, you turned in your work for the week and it contained 18 widgets. On February 13, I had told you that you needed to produce 20 widgets that week.

Specification C:  On February 10, you turned in a Survey Report that had ten misspelled words, three incorrect mathematical calculations, and used 10 point font even though our standard operating procedure for survey reports calls for 12 point font. See attached exhibit A.

And on and on. Then, you’ll need to do a brief Douglas analysis justifying termination, and you’re done at that step.

Seven days to respond, an impartial decision, and they are off the payroll in 31 days. Please note that the law changed in December and you can now place an employee who has received a proposed termination on Notice Leave, thereby getting the employee out of the workplace during the notice period without having to place him on admin leave.

FLRA has had no cases on this, but I’d bet money that they’d find the union has a right to be involved here even though the case law says that they don’t have jurisdiction over a probationary removal. That’s because this whole mess is based on a darned typo in the law that has created this odd-ball category of employees who are technically on probation, but who can appeal to MSPB their removals and are covered by 5 USC Chapter 75.

Best of luck out there.

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