I was just hired into the federal government and I looked at my SF 50, Notification of Personnel Action, and it states that I'm Career Conditional. What does that mean?
Welcome to federal service! I think you will find this experience challenging and rewarding...or at least challenging.
Understanding your tenure status is critical as most feds just glance over their SF 50 and walk blindly into their federal career only to run into pay, benefits and retention problems down the road.
To shed some needed light, the SF-50 is a permanent record in your Official Personnel Folder (OPF). It is the required form of notification for accessions, conversions, and separations, and for corrections and cancellations of those actions. The form is also used to document and report all personnel actions except mass transfer and mass change actions, which may be reported by a listing of the employees impacted. Got that? Good. The area on the form related to your question is block 24.
Block 24 identifies the nature of your appointment. This information is used to determine your rights during a reduction in force (RIF - how could it have a government name without an acronym to recall) and retention during your first year, if you are on probationary period. Employees in the Senior Executive Service (SES) and employees appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation are coded "0," (no pun intended), as are employees who are not in one of the coded tenure groups described below.
Tenure Group 1
- Competitive Service. Career employees who are not serving a probationary period.
- Excepted Service. Permanent employees whose appointments carry no restriction or condition such as conditional, indefinite or specific time limitation, or trial period.
Tenure Group 2
- Competitive Service. All career conditional employees, and all career employees who are serving a probationary period.
- Excepted Service. Employees serving a trial period, or whose tenure is equivalent to career conditional employment in the competitive service, and employees serving under Veterans Readjustment Appointment.
Tenure Group 3
- Competitive Service. All employees serving under indefinite, TAPER (temporary appointments pending establishment of registers) or term appointments, employees serving under any other non-status non-temporary appointments.
- Excepted Service. Employees whose tenure is indefinite, i.e., without specific time limitation but not actually or potentially permanent, or with a specific time limitation of more than one year. Also included are temporary employees who, though currently serving under appointments limited to one year or less, complete one year of current continuous employment.
Permanent employees are generally hired into the federal government under a career-conditional appointment (tenure group 2). Much in the way a criminal must serve a multi-year sentence to be considered a hardened criminal, a career-conditional employee must complete three years of substantially continuous service before becoming a full career employee.
The three-year period must begin and end with non-temporary employment in the competitive service. Generally, substantially continuous creditable service must not include any break in service of more than 30 calendar days. If an employee does not complete the three-year period, a single break in service of more than 30 calendar days will require the employee to serve a new three-year period. (Periods of time in a nonpay status are not breaks in service and do not require the employee to begin a new three-year period. However, they may extend the service time needed for career tenure.)
Career-conditional employees automatically become career employees upon completion of this service requirement. Why does this matter? Because employees with career tenure have a higher retention standing during layoffs. That means that in the event people stage a nation-wide Boston Tea Party or the government can't borrow more money from China and Japan to pay for your service, those who are not career employees and are instead career conditional will be laid off first.
Care should be taken to distinguish the one-year probationary period from the three-year career-conditional period. The probationary period is used to determine the employee's abilities and skills required for permanent government service.
In contrast, the three-year career-conditional period is established only to measure the employee's interest in, and the Government's ability to provide, a career in the federal service. More accurately, it is simply a right of passage that affords greater advantages and protections.
A word of caution on the 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. A person who is transferred, promoted, demoted, or
reassigned before completing probation is required to complete the
probationary period in the new position. Prior federal civilian service
counts toward completion of probation if it is in the same agency, same
line of work, and without a break in service.