End of year performance awards can be a highly contentious issue. This time of year we receive an incredible number of inquiries from federal employees concerning annual performance appraisals and associated (linked or unlinked) “bonuses”. It should be noted that these are not “bonuses”. Rather, they are technically referred to as end of year performance awards and regulated under that definition. Issues related to performance awards and appraisals can be very complicated, and particularized to your circumstances, due to the myriad of regulation and localized controlling authorities; union agreements, agency regulations, past practice, local award policies, type of occupation, supervisor versus non-supervisor, and even special appointment authorities (such as Title 38 compared to Title 5) and type of appointment (part time, term, etc) all influence outcomes.
The first and most important point all federal employees must understand is that 1) there is no entitlement to an award under any circumstances and 2) performance evaluations (ratings) are intrinsically subjective by nature, regardless of efforts to remove such subjectivity through numerical standards. In other words, you have no “right” to a rating you believe you earned and you further have no “right” to a monetary award, except for an award that may be linked to a rating evaluation, once you receive that evaluation (even then, budgetary issues may come into play). Nevertheless, broad standards generally apply in performance rating determinations and performance awards. For example, we advise agency managers that an employee who was previously rated Outstanding under a five tier rating system, who the supervisor now determines is Fully Successful, should have received performance counseling in such a manner the employee is not shocked when issued the rating of Fully Successful. However, most agency regulation and governing Master Agreements only address mid-term performance counseling, which is generally insufficient to fulfill our recommendations.
Employees dissatisfied with their annual performance rating should consult agency regulations and the applicable Master Agreement for guidance on appealing (under agency regulations) or grieving (under the negotiated grievance procedure) the rating. However, as a practical matter, and that’s what InformedFed is all about, appealing or grieving a rating is difficult. An employee may also appeal a rating with which they are dissatisfied by filing an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. Arguably, an EEO complaint is a better means of appeal (better likely outcomes for employee) based on settlement possibilities when compared to an agency administrative appeal procedure or a negotiated grievance.
So, here is the bottom line. It is far better to approach your supervisor throughout the year concerning your performance. We recommend employees set a few meetings a year to discuss performance expectations and whether you are meeting such expectations. Sure, your supervisor should arguably be setting the meetings, but nothing prevents the employee from doing so. However, appealing an annual performance rating is generally best described as difficult. Additionally, each situation is different. If you do decide to appeal using the recommended method of EEO, assuming there is a discriminatory basis for the claim, it is highly recommended you seek professional consultation prior to initiating an EEO complaint.
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