When I joined the VA in October 2004, I was in the process of getting my US citizenship and was hired as a temporary employee until my citizenship was finalized. I was told in the orientation that all physicians were subject to a 2-year probationary period. I got my citizenship October 2005 and assumed I was converted to permanent. To make a long story short, I had problems with my boss and in March 2008 he gave me an unsatisfactory performance review and told me I would be terminated. I quit first, but not before I filed an EEOC complaint. Apparently they processed my citizenship papers only in April 2006 and converted me to permanent status then and started me on a 2-year probationary.
So, what went wrong? What should I have done differently? Do I have any recourse now?
Dear Dr. Mistaken,
First and foremost, no one is as concerned about your welfare as yourself, so you should never make assumptions that someone else has your back unless you're dealing with a chiropractor. Get every promise made to you in writing, and always keep copies. This is a CYA best practice no matter where you work, but especially in the government.
If you had written to me back in 2008 before you quit, I would have advised you to fight back. At this point you do not have recourse for two reasons: 1) you voluntarily left your position, and 2) according to the VA, you were under probationary status, where you have little to no rights.
But the lesson you learned is useful to the many readers at OhMyGov! and the followers of Bureaupat.
First, let's explore what it means to be hired as a temporary employee.
For those who unfamiliar with temporary federal service, temporary appointments are typically used to fill positions when there is not a continuing need for employee services. Because temporary employees do not have competitive status, they may not apply for permanent appointments through agency internal merit promotion procedures, which are used for filling positions from the ranks of current and former permanent federal employees. However, qualifying experience gained while employed in a temporary position is considered when applying later for a permanent position.
Temporary employees are eligible to earn leave and are covered by Social Security and unemployment compensation, but do not receive the other fringe benefits provided to career civil service employees. Current law allows temporary employees to purchase health insurance after they have one year of temporary service, but the employee must pay the full cost with no government contribution. Also, they are not eligible for coverage under the Federal Government Life Insurance program or the Federal Employees Retirement System.
What does it mean to be in a probationary period?
The first year of service of an employee who is given a career-conditional appointment is considered a probationary period. The probationary period is really the final and most important step in the selection process. It affords the supervisor an opportunity to evaluate the employee's performance and conduct on the job, and to remove the person without due process, if necessary.
Typically, you can seek relief through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if your employer removed you due to your marital status or political affiliation. The Board also has responsibility for hearing and adjudicating appeals by federal employees of adverse personnel actions, such as removals, suspensions, and demotions. It resolves cases involving re-employment rights, the denial of periodic step increases in pay, actions against administrative law judges, charges of merit-system violations, and prohibited personnel practices, including charges in connection with whistle-blowing (i.e., the reporting of illegal acts).
The Federal government has extended employee probationary periods for up to three years, under special circumstances.
Regarding your situation, if a policy manual promises (so to speak) that an employee is entitled to certain rights and benefits after successfully completing a probationary period, then the employer likely must make good on the promise by law. Otherwise, the cheated employee might be entitled to file a lawsuit, which the employer might very well lose. Consult a lawyer for legal advice about that.
Remember, you still have rights and due process!