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Federal Employment Law
Performance Improvement Plan

Just like their private-sector counterparts, federal employees must meet performance standards. When federal employees fail to meet their performance standards, it can cost them their careers. 

Unlike most private-sector employers, the government cannot simply fire federal employees when they begin to perform poorly.

Instead, management must place the employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP). If the employee fails to perform adequately during the PIP, the agency can propose their removal from the federal service. 

Read on to learn more about PIPs and how they can affect your career. We’ll discuss PIPs and the legal requirements your employer must meet when placing its employees on a PIP.

If you have more questions or are in danger of going on a PIP yourself, consult an outstanding federal employment firm today.

What Is a PIP?

In contrast to private-sector employees, federal employees have due process rights for their jobs. This fact has enormous implications and gives federal employees significant protections.

One of these protections is that agencies can only propose an employee for poor performance after the employee has:

  • Received notice that their performance is unacceptable; and 
  • Received a reasonable opportunity to improve their performance. 

PIPs meet the second legal requirement. No adverse action is possible against the employee until they have failed the PIP.  

What Should I Expect During a PIP?

Let’s say your agency decides to place you on a PIP. The PIP process generally begins during a performance review. Your supervisor must inform you that your performance in one or more critical job elements is unsatisfactory.

The supervisor will then issue you a letter informing you of your placement on the PIP. This letter will outline the length of the plan, your employer’s expectations, and the potential outcomes of the PIP. 

During the PIP, your management will assign you tasks, monitor your performance closely, and provide continual feedback. Generally, supervisors will provide you with a written list of tasks for you to accomplish. They will then meet with you weekly to discuss what you did well and what you could improve.

There are only two outcomes at the end of the PIP: success or failure. If you succeed, your agency cannot take any adverse action against you. If you fail, your agency can propose your demotion or removal.

If your agency takes action against you, they must provide you with due process rights. These rights include at least 30 days’ advance notice, the right to respond, and the right to have a representative. 

What Should I Do If I Receive a PIP?

No federal employee wants a Performance Improvement Plan. If you do receive one, stay calm and read the letter thoroughly.

Ensure the letter clearly identifies your performance failure, ties that failure to one or more critical elements of your job, and is consistent with your past performance reviews.

Unclear or ambiguous PIPs can be indicative of illegal discrimination or harassment. Next, consult an attorney so you can understand the best path forward.  

Performance Improvement Plan: Two Examples 

Let’s consider two hypothetical PIP examples.

Example #1: Larry’s Surprise

Larry has worked for the Department of the Interior as an accountant for eight years. His performance reviews have always been acceptable, and he has received several awards during the past two years.

At Larry’s last performance review, his manager told him that his performance in two critical elements of his job was unacceptable. He then gave Larry a PIP notice letter.

When Larry asked for an example of the supposed performance failures, his supervisor said there were “countless examples” but refused to give details. Larry suspects that the PIP has to do with his decision to testify against his manager in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hearing three months ago. 

Example #2: Lana’s Struggle

Lana is a dedicated FBI agent with a strong record of success. However, she’s been struggling to complete her reports accurately after her mother died last year.

Lana’s supervisor has repeatedly emailed her about obvious performance errors and mentioned that Lana was in danger of receiving an unacceptable rating in one of her core job duties. Consequently, it was no surprise when Lana received a PIP notice letter last week.

When she reviewed the letter, she realized it was consistent with past feedback and clearly stated what Lana had to do to improve her unacceptable performance. She decided to get her act together.

She hired a therapist to help her cope with the grief of her mother’s death and then dedicated herself to performing her PIP tasks correctly. Her hard work paid off, and she passed the PIP. 

Don’t Fight a PIP on Your Own. Give Us a Call Today.  

The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, is standing by to help you make sense of your PIP notice.

When you consult us, we can analyze your letter, advise you of your legal options, and help you take the next steps. We strive to provide excellence in legal representation and first-class customer service.

Let us help you today.  Call or visit us online to get started.

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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