A pending House vote on a bill (HR-4182) to extend the standard competitive service probationary period from one year to two has revealed a deep split on the issue among employee organizations that most commonly act in tandem, with management groups lining up on one side and labor unions on the other.

The Government Managers Coalition, representing groups including the FMA, SEA and other management organizations, sent a letter to Congress supporting the bill, saying that “We believe that this legislation will allow employees sufficient time on the job to demonstrate their abilities as well as allow for proper assessment. The measure will also ensure that supervisors have the opportunity and authority to fulfill their performance management responsibilities that may not be feasible under the current one-year probationary period.

“The current one-year probationary period is often insufficient to assess an employee’s performance in more technical and complex jobs, of which there are many in the federal government, and may in fact place an employee at risk of termination before having had the opportunity to effectively demonstrate their abilities,” it said.

Unions, however, take the opposite position. For example, a letter from the NTEU union said that “By extending the probationary period, the federal workforce essentially becomes an at will workforce, with limited rights and protections. In fact, the lack of these due process rights has a chilling effect on employee use of the few protections they do have, namely protection against discrimination, sexual harassment, and whistleblower retaliation.”

It also said there is no justification for changing probationary policy “based on a handful of individual instances of concern that would—and can be—much better handled by improved management than by changing the law.”