“Last week they [federal agency] decided to fire me. Should I just resign? If I resign, what will show in my OPF?”
Since we do not know the specifics of your situation, and our advice is always fact driven, we will respond generally. In short, the decision to resign is very personal. As such, you should seek objective advice and consultation at least from a friend, a union representative, even a consultant to provide perspective. Definitely take some time (to extent possible) to make the decision. Also, see these additional related articles. However, it is generally preferable to leave under your own terms, rather than being fired (removed or terminated in cases of probationary employees). Such a decision may preserve future employment consideration, make it easier to pass background investigations, but may otherwise make you ineligible for state unemployment compensation. Check your specific state unemployment laws.
What makes it into your OPF (Official Personnel Folder) depends, and is in large part, discretionary though OPM provides instructive guidance. For example, probationary employees do not have appeal rights whereas those not serving on a probationary appointment have appeal rights. Subsequently, when a probationary employee is terminated from employment, the Agency may not place agency comments or findings in the employee’s OPF or performance folder or on the SF-50 or SF-52. Whereas, when an employee with appeal rights is removed from employment (“fired”), and he or she has been notified in writing of an agency action, prior to submission of the resignation, Agency findings (basis for action in addition to the actual code effecting a removal, known as a NOAC, are generally documented in the OPF.
Regardless, even if you are in a category in which the Agency may document negative findings (i.e. “in lieu of resignations”), you can negotiate a “clean slate” resignation under some conditions with the exception of gross misconduct. A “clean slate” resignation is one in which the agency does not negatively annotate the SF-52 or SF-50 inserted in your OPF. Instead, it would typically reflect “resigned for personal reasons.” It is important any such arrangement be made prior to the affectation of the removal. Most ELR Specialists will oppose any attempt otherwise as it would require cancellation of the removal action, which is more complicated.
SPECIAL UPDATE NOTE as of October 25, 2020: Executive Orders issued by the Trump administration limit the ability of the agency to apply the “clean slate” option discussed above.
Finally, please understand that these situations are driven by individual facts, circumstances, and timing. Accordingly, advice is situational. A good example is the question we often receive regarding the best time to resign in connection with a removal or adverse action situation. Specifically, in many but not all cases, agencies will not provide a “clean record” if the affected employee received a notice of proposed removal prior to resigning. This is also referred to as “document[ing] agency findings” and will be transacted with a specific NOA Code and legal authority with detailed remarks of the alleged charges and specifications contained in the agency notice. The documented remarks are used to determine future employment eligibility and eligibility for various benefits, including unemployment compensation. When a former affected employee in this situation applies for unemployment compensation, the state employment security agency will use the nature of action and the remarks to adjudicate the claim. Similarly, an affected employee may experience suitability and security issues when applying for federal employment.
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