Fedweek

OPM: Any practical benefit of a probationary period is constrained by the current statutory definition of employee.

Federal employees would not gain full appeal rights until they have completed their probationary periods regardless of the length of those periods, under proposed legislation from OPM.

In a proposal to Congress, OPM argued that several court decisions had improperly “granted to probationary employees in some cases the full range of employee procedural protections Congress had always reserved for long-time employees.”

“Probationary periods are an important part of the hiring process and are the final stage of candidate assessment, as the candidate is demonstrating his/her ability to perform the work successfully in the true work environment with no artificial constraints. OPM can provide for longer probationary periods under its current authority, but any practical benefit of this authority is constrained by the current statutory definition of “employee”, which defines when an individual becomes an employee for purposes of receiving procedural due process right when an agency removes them from the federal service,” says an explanation of the proposal.

The standard probationary period in most competitive service positions is one year, although OPM can require a two-year period in certain situations, such as in jobs that require extensive training (the standard period is two years at DoD). The proposed change would “provide greater flexibility for agencies to use longer probationary periods,” the proposal says.

OPM further proposed to make certain temporary employees eligible to compete for permanent employment when their agency is considering individuals from within or outside of the agency under merit promotion procedures. “This proposal would rectify the inequities being created through agency-specific statutory authorities for similar flexibilities,” it says.

It also is seeking to broaden an authority under which an agency may hire students into temporary internship-type positions at GS-11 or below and later convert them without competition into permanent status. The proposal would eliminate a current restriction on the number of such hires allowed per agency each year. “Building a pipeline for the federal workforce is critical to agencies’ ability to continue to meet current and future mission needs,” OPM said.