Report: It Takes At Least 170 Days to Fire a Government Employee

Then they can appeal!

March 10, 2015

A minimum of 170 days is required to fire a federal employee for poor performance, if a government agency properly follows the required dismissal process.

The government firing process is so lengthy that departments often keep bad employees to avoid it, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"The time and resource commitment needed to remove a poor performing permanent employee can be substantial," the GAO said. "It can take six months to a year (and sometimes longer) to dismiss an employee."

In order to fire a government worker federal managers can consult a 12-step flow chart, which the GAO provided in the report released Monday. The report examined the "long-standing personnel issue" of the government’s inability to fire bad employees.

Federal agencies have two procedural options when faced with firing a poor worker: chapters 43 and 75 of title 5 of the United States Code, and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) implementing regulations.

Chapter 43 takes between 170 to 370 days to complete, and includes "counseling sessions" for the worker. The employee also gets a chance to improve their performance, which can last up to 110 days.

Throughout the process the government agency must consult with the Human Resources department and their General Counsel before the worker is informed of their dismissal and their "grievance rights."

After dismissal, the employee is then given the opportunity to appeal, which itself takes an average of 243 days to complete.

Alternatively, agencies can use chapter 75, which is "largely similar to chapter 43." Chapter 75 is generally faster since it does not require time to allow the employee to improve, but the "burden of proof for sustaining a dismissal" is higher.

Agencies are able to avoid both processes by firing poor performers during their first year on the job, or by declining to dismiss a bad employee.

All civil service workers are required to undergo a one-year probationary period when they start working for the government to prove their value. If a worker is dismissed during the probationary period the government does not have to follow either chapters 43 or 75.

The GAO found that supervisors often choose to do nothing to poor performers due to "concern over litigation," and because firing them is too time consuming. The termination processes can be "bureaucratic obstructions" to supervisors, they said.

The government fired just 3,489 employees for performance in 2013, representing 0.18 percent of all federal workers. Seventy percent of these dismissals occurred during the initial probationary period, 21 percent through chapter 75, and 8 percent through chapter 43.

Nearly half of workers fired through chapter 43 appealed their dismissal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), taking an average of 243 days to adjudicate.

Last week CBS News reported that the inability to fire federal workers, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee who spent six hours a day watching porn on the job, is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every week.