What is a Reduction in Force in the Federal Government and What To Do

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Before we dive into what you can do in the unlikely event of a Reduction in Force (RIF), let’s define it.

What is a Reduction in Force (Federal Government)?

In the Federal Government a Reduction in Force (RIF) is a form of layoff and generally means there will be a permanent decrease in the total number of employees. The RIF regulations dictate whether an employee retains their current position or if they have the right to be assigned to a different role.

reduction in force federal government

When a federal agency chooses to abolish one or more employment positions, this is what is known as a Reduction In Force (RIF) in the federal government. Once an RIF has begun to take place, the agency in question is required to follow strict OPM Guidelines.

A federal employee who is affected by a Reduction in Force will also have a wide range of procedures and rights available to them before.

Each of these protections falls under the Merit Systems Protection Board’s purview. Any federal employee who is in an agency that has been or will be affected by a Reduction In Force is more than welcome to check out our helpful guide to your benefits, entitlements and rights.

If you require information that is more unique to your personal situation, the Law Office of Justin Schnitzer and our federal employment lawyers are here to help fight on your behalf.


Experts In This Article

How Can I Handle a Reduction In Force?

To fully understand how you can handle a Reduction In Force, it is important to know all that it entails. For starters, a federal agency is permitted to utilize a Reduction In Force for a number of different reasons. These specified reasons are as follows: a shortage of funding, lack of work, downsizing or reorganization and an insufficient personnel ceiling.

RIF procedures are also used when certain restoration or reemployment rights are being exercised. Without the assistance of an experienced legal representative, these procedures can become even more stressful and anxiety-inducing. In order to handle this situation properly, an employee must retain experienced legal representation and know their rights.

When a reduction in force takes place in the federal government, a federal employment lawyer will help you to navigate all of the most crucial questions that you are sure to have. For example, did you know that you may have a right to placement in another position within the agency in question? These decisions will depend on reasoning and availability but it is a great place to start.

Even more crucially, the government is made to adhere to certain procedures and rules during a Reduction In Force. This ensures that the employee is given a fair process once it comes time to make these difficult decisions. This includes deciding which positions are going to be terminated, which ones are going to be laid off and which employees will be able to reclaim their positions once the Reduction In Force has been completed.

In the event that these rules are not followed, you will be entitled to the reinstatement of your position. Please be sure to contact the government must abide by certain rules and procedures meant to ensure a fair process when determining which positions to terminate, who to lay off, and who to rehire when the RIF is complete. If these rules and procedures are not properly followed by your agency, you may be entitled to reinstatement or more.

The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer is here to help. Please be sure to contact our legal team as soon as possible by calling 202-964-4878 or you can feel free to fill out a short contact form.

reduction in force federal government
In order to handle this situation properly, an employee must retain experienced legal representation and know their rights.

How Do Federal Agencies Make Termination Decisions?

When it comes time to initiate Reduction In Force related actions, federal agencies have a sizable amount of discretion at their disposal. An employee should be aware of the fact that a federal agency has been permitted to make its own determination as to whether the Reduction In Force is necessary. They can also decide when the RIF takes place, which positions to eliminate and whether budgetary cutbacks can be accomplished in a different manner.

However, an agency that has decided to proceed with a Reduction In Force will need to abide by certain regulations. These retention regulations help to decide which employees are going to be immediately affected by the RIF. It begins by grouping the employees into specific geographic regions, also known as the “Competitive Area”.

These are the organizational and geographic limits that are put into place to govern RIF competition. If the agency in question was not willing to abide by these RIF Guidelines, you can speak to our legal representatives about the potential for an MSPB appeal. Once the Competitive Area is being defined, the agency is also asked to define the “Local Commuting Area” as well.

An area of this nature will typically include a population center where the employees reside and travel to work. Let’s say that the agency was not willing to abide by the RIF Guidelines in determining the Local Commuting Area. This is also grounds for a potential appeal to the MSPB. Lastly, each Competitive Area must be grouped in a certain manner.

Each interchangeable position must be grouped into “Competitive Levels.” From there, every level will have to include positions that are within the same classification series, grade and then some. Like the previously mentioned RIF Guidelines, a failure to abide by the regulations may lead to a case for appeal to the MSPB.

How Are Employee Rankings Determined?

Once the interchangeable positions have been grouped into Competitive Levels, the federal is then ranked based on “Retention Registers.” These rankings are determined by considering the employee’s relative standing, which will be based on four different retention factors. This includes their performance ratings, length of service, veteran’s status and tenure of employment.

The agency must adhere to the RIF Guidelines when the Retention Register is created. Otherwise, you may have a case to file an appeal to the MSPB. It is important to note that the ranking procedures and RIF regulations in these instances can be difficult to understand. That’s why we recommend having an experienced federal employment attorney at your disposal.

Note that RIF regulations and ranking procedures can be confusing and technically complex, and we strongly recommend walking through them with an attorney. Our attorneys have a multitude of experience in this regard and are able to represent federal employees who are currently facing a Reduction In Force. The procedures and ranking factors will be reviewed closely, in order to determine whether the agency in question adhered to the necessary guidelines.

Who Has The Right To Appeal to the MSPB?

Before proceeding, it is pivotal for a federal employee to know when they do and do not have the right to appeal to the MSPB. A federal employee who currently belongs to a bargaining unit that is covered by negotiated grievance procedures will not have the right to an appeal. The same goes for a federal employee who has voluntarily accepted another position as part of a Reduction In Force.

If an employee works for a government contractor, they are not going to have the right to an appeal, either. Conversely, a federal employee does have the right to file an appeal to the MSPB in the instance of an RIF in a case where they are terminated, downgraded or placed on a furlough that is slated to last longer than 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous workdays.

In the instance of a furlough that is slated to be completed in less than 30 days, this is not considered to be a Reduction In Force. It would be referred to as an adverse action. When an employment position is abolished, this does not always trigger the usage of procedures related to a Reduction In Force. An agency that is looking to avoid RIF-related actions is able to reassign the employee to a position that is vacant, provided that the pay grade remains the same or better.

What Remedies Are Provided To Affected Employees?

An employee who is terminated due to a Reduction In Force is entitled to a number of different benefits. These benefits include but are not limited to severance pay, continued benefits, unused annual leave, unused sick leave, unemployment compensation, FEGLI Life Insurance, FEHBP health benefits, CSRS immediate annuity, Thrift Savings Plan withdrawal rights and any eligible retirement benefits. Priority re-employment rights may also be included.

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Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Why Should Our Federal Employment Lawyers Be Contacted?

When your agency has decided to go through the Reduction In Force process, you will need to make sure that your rights are being advocated for. Each step of the process is pivotal and without proper legal representation, the road to what is rightfully yours will only become more rocky.

Before a Reduction In Force can take place, a federal employee has a number of steps that they can think to ensure that their job is not being affected. After the RIF has occurred, an agency that has not adhered to the procedures and policies that have been put into place will need to be taken to task. In these instances, that’s when an MSPB appeal is necessary.

Our attorneys will guide you through all of these procedures and ensure that you are receiving everything that you are entitled to. Please be sure to contact The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer as soon as possible, so that our team of experienced and dedicated federal employment lawyers are able to walk you through each step of the process. You can call our office at 202-964-4878 or fill out a short contact form today!

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Meet the Author:
Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Justin Schnitzer is the managing partner of The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, and represents individual federal employees and unions in various aspects of federal employment law. His practice is primarily dedicated to federal EEOC and MSPB matters, responses to proposed disciplinary actions and investigations into potential misconduct.