When a federal agency has to conduct a reduction-in-force (RIF), it is usually seen as an absolute last resort to save the agency itself. Does this option sit in the back of the queue due to laws and regulations against RIFs in general, though? Or, are there other reasons why an agency might not want to make a RIF after having its budget cut or workload minimalized? With the Trump Administration promising to cut the budgets of a large number of agencies, questions about RIFs are fresh on many peoples’ minds.
Partner and attorney Heather White of the Federal Practice Group recently spoke with a popular radio show, Federal Drive with Jared Serbu on Federal News Radio 1500 AM, to talk about how agencies carry out RIFs. She explained that an agency can start a RIF whenever necessary and rarely needs to seek additional approval before doing so. However, it makes more financial sense to try to avoid losing any labor force through terminations and layoffs. In particular, when someone gets “RIF’d”, they need to be paid a severance package that could be up to a year’s salary. If an agency has to plan a great deal of RIFs, the cost of paying out the severance packages can become incredibly expensive, and almost counterproductive to its initial effort to save money.
Rather than going straight for a RIF, Ms. White explained, an agency will likely explore other options first. Simply trying to encourage an employee to “go out on their own” might be used; for example, an agency could send out a newsletter to employees that states the budget has been cut, jobs are not steady, and it might be prudent to start looking into other forms of employment just in case. In other scenarios, a buyout or early retirement program might prove cheaper than laying off an employee and granting them severance. Also, management directed reassignment can be used, which essentially lets management members fill preexisting openings with an employee that would have been RIF’d. As Ms. White pointed out on the radio program, this can lead to an awkward and inefficient system as an employee is forced into a job position they did not want.
She also talked about how agencies need to develop a retention register once a RIF is confirmed in the future. A retention register basically lists employees in terms of who has most definitely earned retention after downsizing and who has not. If an employee ranks high in the retention register, he or she has more options to fight for a position, including “bumping” a low-ranking employee out of a spot and taking it over. Employees who do get RIF’d out of a job should be placed into the Career Transition Assistance Program (CTAP), which prioritizes them for new job openings in the future.
All in all, there are options if a federal employee is facing a layoff or termination due to budget cuts, and agencies want to avoid this outcome, anyway. For more information about RIFs and federal employment, you can listen to the full audio file by clicking here and visiting the Federal News Radio website. You can also contact The Federal Practice Group to speak to a federal employment law attorney about your own concerns about your agency conduction a reduction-in-force.