FMA Suggests Extending Probationary Periods

Congress should consider extending to other agencies a recent change affecting only DoD that doubles the standard probationary period there from one year to two, the Federal Managers Association told a Senate hearing.

“Some career fields are so complex that it takes more than one year to properly train an entry-level employee. FMA advocates extending the probationary period. This would benefit both the government and employees by allowing supervisors to make decisions based on the employees’ performance as fully trained employees – not just guessing at how they will perform after the training is completed,” FMA president Renee M. Johnson told a Governmental Affairs subcommittee.

“Many federal agencies employ labor forces requiring specialized, technical skills to carry out their duties. New employees must often master broad and complex policies and procedures to meet their agencies’ missions, necessitating several months of formal training followed by long periods of on-the-job instruction,” she said. “In occupations where training takes substantial time, supervisors may only have a few months of work to judge employees’ performance. An extended period would allow supervisors to fully assess employees’ abilities.”

Such arguments made up the justification for the change affecting DoD, which was put in place last fall retroactive to hires starting November 26, 2015, the effective date of the change in law.

During a probationary period an employee can be removed or otherwise disciplined with far fewer appeal rights than afterward. Mainly for that reason, federal unions generally oppose lengthening the probationary period, saying that one year is long enough for management, if it is doing its duty, to assess an employee.

However, Johnson said that a longer period could work to the benefit of employees, since “there is an incentive to dismiss the employee prior to the expiration of the one-year window even though the employee may not have had sufficient time to show that they could master the job.”