Contrary to popular opinion, federal employees can be fired and often are. Sometimes the process is a nudge out the door so the employee receives the message and acts on it before formal action is taken. There are no statistics on how often this happens, but it is probably more common than the traditional disciplinary actions that occur.
Other times the message is delivered more subtly. For example, a supervisor used to dealing directly with superiors and then with a clear chain of command to subordinates suddenly finds the higher-ups bypassing him and going directly to the subordinates without informing him. To add insult to injury, higher management then blames the supervisor when something goes wrong. Not being invited to meetings or being excluded from email chains also are signs of not being wanted, especially when inclusion used to be the norm.
The performance appraisal rating also can send a message. Many employees abhor the fully successful rating because it is viewed as a barrier to getting another federal job. What is worse is a fully successful rating with negative comments. This adds to the frustration of many employees because they sense they are unwanted and yet lack a means to escape to another agency.
If you are a supervisor, a sign your agency does not want you is for your section to be subjected to a workplace climate assessment by an outside contractor. This is usually bad news for the targeted supervisor. Higher-level management often has an idea of what it views the problem to be, or the assessment is being used as a pretext to get the manager out of the way for other reasons.
Denial of training that had been routine also can be a sign, but be careful in these tight budget times not to confuse higher management’s motives. Before you jump to conclusions, look around and determine whether others also are being denied formerly granted training.
Some managers will simply tell you that you are no longer wanted and why. If you are in your probationary period, this feedback can be accompanied by a letter terminating you from your job without earlier notice. If you have passed your probationary period, your manager may try to explain why you are viewed as a problem and offer you options, such as resigning before you are fired. If you are offered this option, you may want to have your union or a lawyer help you with your decision to leave or to stay and fight. The reality is that once your manager offers you the choice of resigning before the adverse action process begins, you still have an obligation to disclose to a future potential federal employer the fact that you resigned after being told you would be fired.
While it can be unpleasant, many times it is better to hang in there and call management’s bluff. Doing so can be risky and should be done with an objective assessment of the facts and circumstances. Often, a consultation with a lawyer can help with the decision, especially when a resigning employee receives such a small clean slate when he resigns after being told that removal proceedings will occur, but before the adverse action process has started.
Fighting back when you know you are no longer wanted is possible. The employee can file a grievance or equal employment opportunity complaint or seek whistle-blower protection. There are downsides. A grievance will generally be decided by the agency trying to get you to leave. Even if you are in a bargaining unit, grievances are often about vague perceptions, and the lack of clarity usually makes them poor candidates for arbitration. The EEO system takes a long time, and you must prove discrimination. Finally, to be protected as a whistle-blower you must make a protected disclosure and show a relationship between that disclosure and the unpleasant workplace treatment.
When it is clear that your agency does not want you, the most successful act is to find another job. Learn how to read the tea leaves early, before any damage can be done to your record to inhibit a future job search.