The Performance Improvement Plan: an Uphill Battle

Poor performance is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for an Agency to propose a reassignment, demotion or removal from federal service or other adverse action . When your performance rating falls below the acceptable standard for your position, the Agency must provide you with a meaningful opportunity to improve before they can propose an adverse action based on poor performance. In order to meet this obligation the Agency will implement a Performance Improvement Plan or Performance Improvement Period (PIP). A PIP is a commonly used administrative tool to provide an employee with additional training or focus on the critical elements of their position that the Agency has identified as deficient. By placing an employee on a PIP prior to proposing such adverse personnel actions the Agency is documenting that they have provided a federal employee with a meaningful opportunity to improve.

In order for the opportunity to improve to be "meaningful" the employee must be made aware of several things when being placed on a PIP. First, the Agency must make it clear to the employee that they have observed performance deficiencies in critical elements of that employee's position. The employee must then be told specifically what they must do in order to achieve a successful rating; the standards by which their improvement will be evaluated or measured; what guidance, training or assistance management is willing to provide; and the consequences if the employee fails to improve at the conclusion of the PIP. In addition the employee should be made aware of the length of the PIP, including the start and end date or any extensions thereof. Assuming you successfully improve under a PIP you will be notified by the Agency and should resume employment without further action.

In the event that the Agency determines that you failed to improve or correct the performance deficiencies identified in the PIP, a notice of proposed action is most likely in your future. Regardless of whether or not you feel you truly failed to improve under the PIP, there are a variety of procedural mistakes the Agency could have made in the implementation or execution of your PIP and/or in the issuance of a notice of proposed removal or demotion. A federal employment attorney can evaluate the best way of challenging an adverse action like a termination, that came about because of a PIP.