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Resource Center for Addressing and Resolving Poor Performance

Special Topics

About Special Topics

During the process of addressing and resolving performance problems, you will need to keep abreast of certain situations that are driven by an employee's length of service. The two most common situations involve the consideration of an employee's probationary/trial period and the denial of his or her within-grade increase.

The Probationary/Trial Period

One of the most important times to address performance is during the probationary/trial period. As the final step in the examination process of a new employee, this period-which generally lasts 1 to 2 years-is designed to give supervisors the opportunity to assess how well an employee can perform the duties of a job. Generally, a probationary period is for one year for competitive service employees while a trial period is for one to two years for excepted service employees.

Employees' performance during this time period usually serves as a good indication of how well they will perform throughout their career. During this period, supervisors should provide assistance to help new employees improve their performance while, at the same time, determine whether or not the employee is suited for a position.

If a performance-based action is warranted against a probationer, please keep in mind probationers can appeal their termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board only if their termination is based on marital status or partisan political affiliation. Employees working during their probationary/trial periods generally are not covered under Parts 432 or 752 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This exemption is due, in part, to the very nature of this period which allows supervisors the chance to determine whether a new employee will be an asset rather than a liability to the organization. Because different appeal and procedural rights apply during the probationary and trial periods, it is important to confirm the employee's status consistent with law as described in The Director's Memorandum to Chief Human Capital Officers and Human Resource Directors dated March 21, 2007.

The lapse of a probationary/trial period without a proper assessment of a new employee's performance may result in future performance problems. For supervisors, the probationary/trial period should always be considered a key period for addressing and resolving poor performance.


Within-Grade Increase Denials

While in the process of assisting an employee with improving performance, or sometimes in the process of taking a performance-based action, a supervisor often has to deal with the issue of a within-grade increase denial. Within-grade increases (often called WIGI) are routinely granted for employees whose performance is acceptable, but supervisors need to be aware of the process required to "deny" a within-grade increase when an employee's performance is not at the acceptable level.

In order to be eligible for a within-grade increase, an employee must be performing at an "acceptable level of competence." In most agencies, this eligibility requires a rating of fully successful or equivalent. Depending on the nature of an agency's performance management system, it is not unusual for an employee to be above the unacceptable level but below the level required for a within-grade increase.

As soon as you determine that an employee's performance is falling below the acceptable level, even if it is not yet at the unacceptable level, find out when the employee's next within-grade increase is due. Depending upon the step of the employee, there may be a 1-, 2-, or 3-year waiting period until the next within-grade increase could be granted. If it is coming up anytime soon, you need to assess where the employee stands in terms of meeting the standards for an overall rating of acceptable performance.


Appeal Rights

Employees will generally have the right to appeal a removal or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board or to grieve the action through the agency's negotiated grievance procedure. The employee can choose between these two methods of appeal, but cannot pursue both avenues. Allegations of discrimination, reprisal for whistleblowing, and other prohibited personnel practices can be raised in an employee's appeal. Such allegations can also be filed directly with your agency's Equal Employment Office or the Office of Special Counsel.

Regardless of the route an employee chooses to appeal a performance-based action, following the guidance in this booklet and getting assistance as needed from your agency's human resources staff and legal counsel will prepare you to present a strong case supporting your actions before any third party. Remember-the staffs of those two offices are the experts in this area, and will be glad to explain your role in the appeals process and provide the technical assistance you need.

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