Contesting performance appraisals

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Whether your rating period is tied to the fiscal or calendar year, you’ve just received or are about to receive your annual rating. That rating can be the basis for eligibility for an end-of-year bonus or a pay increase. It is also used when seeking a new position in the federal government. For these reasons, federal workers take the annual rating seriously. Here’s what to do if you disagree with your annual rating.

For non-bargaining unit employees and employees in management, your agency should have a performance management guide or directive that dissects the rating process. Often an agency will have a separate performance management guide just for its senior executive service workforce; their rating system is unique. Regardless of whether you fit into the former or latter group, your agency’s performance management guide will walk you through the annual rating process from issuance of the workplace, through midyear review, through to issuance of the final rating.

For non-bargaining unit employees and managers and supervisors, most agency performance management systems build into that process a means to challenge the end-of-year rating. If your agency’s performance management system includes a means for challenging the end-of-year rating, use this process to file a challenge if you are not in agreement with either the rating or narrative description, rather than filing an administrative grievance under your agency’s grievance process. Check the performance guide soon because it will set a time limit on when you can file a challenge to the rating, usually seven or 10 days from receipt of the rating.

If you’re an SES, then you have a right to “a higher level review” before your rating is presented to the Performance Review Board and the agency head. Your agency’s SES performance management guide will lay out the timing of when to make the higher level review request and how it should be done. The time limit for filing your request for a higher level review is short, usually three to five days.

The entire performance appraisal process for bargaining unit employees is usually contained in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If your position is in the bargaining unit, then you should get the section of the CBA that governs your performance appraisal process and challenges to the annual rating.

Any employee can challenge an element rating, summary rating, and/or narrative description of job performance. If you choose to do so, be specific about what you believe is in error. Complaining that your supervisor has some type of bias against you or that the performance process was not followed are usually losing arguments. Most deficiencies in the process legally do not rise to the level of affecting the rating, although some defects in the process will have the legal effect of extending the rating period so that the defect can be corrected.

Most importantly, read your annual rating closely and with an open mind.  While you may disagree with the rating, you’re more likely to succeed at work if you are open to considering what your rater has to say about your job performance.

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About Author

Debra Roth

Debra L. Roth is a partner at the law firm Shaw Bransford & Roth, a federal employment law firm in Washington, D.C. She is general counsel to the Senior Executives Association and the Federal Managers Association, host of the “FEDtalk” program on Federal News Radio, and a regular contributor to Federal News Radio’s “Federal Drive” morning show. Email your legal questions to lawyer@federaltimes.com.

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