About the Merit Systems Protection Board

Federal Employee Termination Procedures

Federal government employees may have greater job protection than most private sector employees but that does not mean that they are completely secure. There are situations when federal agencies may legally terminate the employment of a federal employee. Those situations differ according to the federal agency and the type of employee involved. Therefore, it is important for federal employees to understand their rights, and their rights to appeal, if they believe that they have been unjustly terminated.

General Considerations for Terminations of Career Employees

There are primarily two legal ways for a federal agency to terminate a career employee. First, an agency may be forced to downsize its workforce for reasons unrelated to a specific employee’s job performance such as a budget reduction, decreased work load, or shifting national priorities. If an agency is forced to downsize, then it must consider four factors when making layoffs. Those factors include: type of employment (career employee, appointee or probationary employee, for example), length of government service, veteran’s preference rights, and performance ratings.

Second, an agency may need for fire a specific employee because of poor performance. Poor performance must be properly documented in formal performance reviews and employees must be provided with the opportunity to correct their behavior. If an employee does not correct his or her behavior, then an agency may follow proper procedures to terminate employment. Those procedures include providing written notice to the employee.

Termination of Probationary Employees or Appointed Employees

Probationary employees and government appointees have fewer rights than federal government career employees. Probationary employees are technically still job applicants, despite their paychecks, and appointees serve at the pleasure of the President or for a term certain and thus do not have a reasonable expectation of a lifelong career in their current position. That said, while their positions may be terminated, they cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons or for exercising their legally protected rights. Employees of certain intelligence or defense agencies may also have fewer protections against job terminations than civilian career employees.

You May Appeal a Termination Decision

No matter what type of federal employee you are, or what agency you work for, you may have the right to appeal an agency’s decision to terminate your employment if the agency violated the law in terminating your employment.

An experienced employment lawyer can review the circumstances of your termination and advise you about your rights. It is important to hire a lawyer who has specific experience with the employment rights of federal government employees, as federal employees have significantly different rights than other private employees or even state and local government employees.

An employment termination may be considered an adverse action or prohibited personnel practice that would give you jurisdiction to appeal your termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and your employment lawyer can help you with all required filings and stages of the appeal. Therefore, if you believe that you have been unjustly terminated from your federal government job, then you should contact an attorney as soon as possible for an initial consultation.