RIF Mechanics

If the appropriate agency authority decides to carry out a Reduction in Force, it must determine the effective date and how many positions will be abolished.  It also may at its option make a formal announcement about the general parameters of a RIF.

It must begin to follow required procedures prior to taking any concrete actions regarding employees.  At that point, the agency goes through a series of steps to select the employees to be RIF’d, and then must notify each employee of their individual RIF action.  These steps are –

1. Competitive area.  The agency must delineate the competitive area(s) to be affected by the RIF.  These are areas in which employees compete for retention in a RIF.  They must be defined solely in terms of the agency's organizational unit(s) and geographic location (within a local commuting area).

A competitive area may be all or part of an agency.  If part of an agency, it is a subdivision under  separate administration within the local commuting area.  A competitive area must be established  at least 90 days prior to a RIF effective date unless the agency requests an exception from OPM.  5 C.F.R. 351.402.Empty cubicles

2. Competitive level.  Within each competitive area, the agency establishes competitive level(s). These consist of all positions in the competitive area that are the same grade (or occupational level) and classification series, and which are similar enough in duties, qualification, requirements, pay schedules, and working conditions that an agency may reassign the incumbent of one position to any of the other positions in the level without interruption.

A competitive level could consist of many positions or of one unique position.

Agencies must also establish separate competitive levels according to the following categories:

    1. by service (competitive service or excepted service);
    2. by appointment authority;
    3. by pay schedule;
    4. by work schedule (full-time, part-time, intermittent or seasonal); and
    5. by trainee status.   5 C.F.R. § 351.403.

3. Retention Roster.  For each competitive level, the agency creates a retention roster that ranks employees as to priority for being released in the RIF, based on the following factors:

    1. tenure of employment (i.e., type of position, including permanent v. temporary appointment and probationary status
    2. military preference;
    3. length of service;
    4. efficiency or performance ratings. 5 U.S.C. § 3502. 

In order to create the retention roster, the agency must have up-to-date information on each employee’s official position description, three most recent performance ratings, service computation date and veteran’s preference status.

The agency creates tenure groups based on status as permanent, indefinite, term or temporary appointment and probationary status. Veteran’s preference affects the tenure group placement, while good performance is used to enhance the length of service.

4. Order of Release.  The retention roster is used to determine the order or releasing employees to meet the goals of the RIF. Employees are selected for release in inverse order of their retention standing.

5. Reassignment Rights.  After determining who will be separated, the agency essentially performs a second round process with the retention register to determine the reassignment rights of the RIF’d employees, using the same four factors used to determine who would be RIF’d. Reassigned employees displace employees on different retention rosters who have lower retention standing.  5 CFR 351.701 

    1. Eligibility.  An employee is eligible for reassignment if s/he is a permanent employee in the competitive service, has a current annual performance evaluation of at least minimally successful (or equivalent), and is qualified for the offered position. 
      • Employees in the excepted service have no assignment rights, but an agency may elect to provide its excepted service employees with RIF assignment rights to other excepted positions.
    2. Positions offered.  Must be in the same competitive area, last at least 3 months and have the same type of work schedule (full-time, part-time, intermittent or seasonal).
    3. Bumping.  Reassignment to another employee’s position who is in a lower tenure group or a lower sub-group within a tenure group. The position must be no more than three grades lower than the position the employee is being released from.
    4. Retreating.  Reassignment to a position held by another employee in the same tenure group and subgroup but with lower retention standing.  The position must be the same or essentially identical position formerly held by the released employee.

6. RIF Notices.  After the agency uses the retention roster to determine who will be RIF’d and their reassignment rights, it must prepare written notices for each RIF’d employee.  

    1. Timing.  The notice must be provided at least 60 days prior to the release date, unless the agency head asks OPM to shorten the period to no less than 30 days. 
    2. Contents.  The notice must contain the action to be taken (separation, demotion or furlough), the reasons for the action, the effective date, the employee’s competitive area and competitive level, retention subgroup, length of service, and three most recent performance ratings, information on reemployment rights and on the right to appeal the RIF to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).  It may also contain benefits information.
    3. Benefits.  A RIF’d employee may be eligible for severance pay, a retirement annuity, selection priority for applying for other federal government positions, unemployment compensation, or training. 
      • The employee may also be entitled to refunds of retirement contributions, a lump sum payment for annual leave, health and life insurance benefits, and outplacement assistance.
    4. Notice to other parties in large RIFs.  When 50 or more employees in a competitive area receive separation notices, the agency must provide written notice to certain state and local agencies and the bargaining unit representative.
    5. Status during notice period. When possible the agency should retain the employee in an active duty status.  However, in an emergency where the agency lacks work or funds, it may place the employee on annual leave, leave without pay, or a non-pay status, with or without his consent.  5 C.F.R. § 351.806