If federal agencies resort to layoffs this fall, most of the losers will be younger employees, new hires and people who don’t have veterans preference. Given the current job market, where so many of the new jobs are low wage, it could send thousands of people to their state unemployment benefit offices.
Should agencies be forced to run a RIF (reduction in force), thousands of people — many of them relatively brand new to the federal service — could literally be bumped out of their jobs as older, veteran employees bump them down the chain of command and push the newer people out.
Although the so-called last-hired-first-fired policy has been modified over the years, short-timers who aren’t vets still have targets on their back in RIF seasons.
RIFS, supposedly designed to save the taxpayers money, could wind up costing a bundle: A maximum of up to a year’s pay for each employee fired without cause. In some cases that could be a six-figure amount, much more than the $25,000 (before deductions) payments agencies can make for people who quit or retire.
RIFs haven’t been an issue in government since the Clinton years when layoffs and buyouts were used to thin the federal civil-service herd.
During the recent recession, thousands of nonfederal workers lost their jobs and retirement benefits, and took pay cuts. Many employers temporarily or permanently suspended matching contributions to their 401(k) plans. The federal government, even after three years of a pay freeze, was a safe place to be.
About half of all federal workers were furloughed earlier this year. But while it was a major hardship for many paycheck-to-paycheck workers, the maximum number of furlough days was 7.
The new federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1. It will be the first full year of sequestration. Defense, which had six furlough days this year, say it may have to resort to RIFs to save some of the $50 billion-plus it will be required to cut.
Furloughs are the bureaucratic equivalent of a few ants at a picnic. RIFS are when it rains, lightning strikes and the ants eat some of the surviving picnickers.
RIFS are ugly and cumbersome. There are some 3,000 reference and regulations concerning them. Also, they are very costly in dollars, time, disruption and morale.
Feds who are RIF-ed are entitled to severance pay equal to as much as a years’ salary. In some cases, that can be six figures. Then the agency that got rid of them to save money must kick in cash to pay for their unemployment benefits.
Because of complicated RIF rules, agencies are required to divide employees into groups, then sub-groups. Everything from seniority to veterans preference and job-performance ratings come into play. Time served and military service are easy to prove and can’t be tampered with. But when performance is an issue, favoritism (real or imagined) is always an issue.
Want to check out the RIF rules? See where you may stand when and if your agency decides to take that route. Good luck.
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