Fedweek

One effect of the shortened disciplinary process at the VA is to cost many employees a chance to improve their performance before being subject to discipline up to firing on those grounds, says the AFGE union, which represents the majority of the department’s workforce.

Special policies at the VA, including giving employees less time to respond to notices of potential disciplinary action, were enacted last year as part of the continuing fallout from a series of scandals involving patient scheduling and care. The policies are widely seen as a potential precedent for making similar changes government-wide and thus are serving as something of a pilot program, even though not specifically designed that way.

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In a letter to congressional leaders on veterans matters, the AFGE noted that before the changes at VA, employees there shared in the general right to a “performance improvement period” in which they would be given time and assistance from the agency to address areas in which the agency determines they are coming up short. The standard period was 90 days, the letter said, but the VA now has no set timeframes and as a result “employees now fear that they can be fired at will with little reason or recourse.”

The union requested hearings into that issue as well as into the general patterns of discipline at the VA since passage of last year’s law, saying that of the above 1,600 employees who have been fired in that time, only 18 were supervisory.