The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees [NOOK Book]


Government bureaucracy can often make hiring great employees a cumbersome, slow-moving process. But with the right advice from a seasoned mentor who's been there, seen it all, and managed to assemble high-performing, productive groups of people, you'll be able to surround yourself with great work teams on a consistent basis throughout your career.

By the same token, during the course of your career as a government manager, chances are you will find that some of your employees ...

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The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees

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Government bureaucracy can often make hiring great employees a cumbersome, slow-moving process. But with the right advice from a seasoned mentor who's been there, seen it all, and managed to assemble high-performing, productive groups of people, you'll be able to surround yourself with great work teams on a consistent basis throughout your career.

By the same token, during the course of your career as a government manager, chances are you will find that some of your employees are simply not working out. They may be holdovers from the past who have never been good employees and have never been dealt with; they may be good employees whose performance has suffered due to personal problems or other reasons; or they may be recent hires who turned out to be poor selections despite your best efforts. Like it or not, it's your responsibility to document and deal with those who don't make the cut, as well as bring on board the best talent available in the first place.

Based on author Stewart Liff's extensive experience as a government human resources management expert, as well as his many years as a government line manager and senior executive, The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees shows you how to cut through the red tape and:

take an anticipatory approach to recruiting

decide who to target and where and how to advertise for open positions

screen and interview candidates

counsel a poor-performing employee

use progressive discipline

document a case

write a charge

develop internal political support

prepare for and win a third party hearing

and continuously maintain an entire department off exceptional performers

Filled with smart,no-nonsense strategies you can adapt in any hiring and firing situation, this book is a powerful resource that will enable you to maintain an efficient, productive work team at all times.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Unlike other government reference books, the author shares his government experience and expertise with human resources and management and sheds light on its many nuances. He also provides a roadmap and reference tool to the potential pitfalls that experienced and inexperienced federal managers face daily....Not another door stop or dust gatherer. 4 out 4 of stars if used earnestly by federal mangers and supervisors." --Oh My Gov!

"Liff's new book tosses aside the typical esoteric discourse on civil service reform and hunkers down into the weeds of current law to help managers figure out how to hire the best workers and get rid of the worst now -- not in some utopian, imaginary world of the future." --Government Executive

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814414514
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 12/9/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Stewart Liff

Stewart Liff was born in Flushing, New York in 1951 and moved to Santa Clarita, California in 1994. A classically trained artist, he worked for the Federal government for 32 years, where he led several transformation efforts. One of them led to Vice President Al Gore presenting his office with his first Hammer Award for reinventing government. The second effort resulted in his office winning OPM's prestigious PILLAR (Performance Incentives Leadership Linked to Achieving Results) Award. He has written six books, four on managing in government, one on visual management and his most recent book, A Team of Leaders, with Paul Gustavson, which was recently named one of the 30 best books of 2014 by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

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Read an Excerpt


THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN to address two of the most important issues

that government managers will ever have to face: how to hire and fire a government

employee. Neither of these is easy, but in all probability, you will

need to do both in order to succeed.

Most likely, you will hire far more employees than you will fire—if not,

something is definitely wrong. After all, if you spend most of your time correcting

bad hiring decisions, what does that say about your hiring process?

Moreover, you will find yourself devoting far too much of your precious

time looking for ways to get rid of bad employees instead of performing your

day-to-day job responsibilities.

In the course of a long career, you may hire dozens if not hundreds of

people, and make no mistake about it, the quality of the people you hire will

go a long way toward determining how successful you are as a manager.

Unfortunately, in my experience, government managers often spend an inordinate

amount of time bringing in large groups of new hires without devoting

enough time to strategizing how to bring in the best possible group of new

employees. As a result, these managers find themselves hiring a mix of candidates,

many of whom prove to be less than optimal selections. Eventually, the

managers wind up scrambling to try and deal with the problems inherent in

a weak workforce. These problems range from a wide variety of training

challenges to employee relations issues to performance problems, many of

which could have been avoided had managers taken more time to plan properly

and had they possessed the skills needed to hire an excellent group of

new employees in the first place.

That is not to say that it is easy to hire top-notch government employ-

ees. It most certainly is not. The government’s laws, rules, regulations, and

procedures for hiring, regardless of whether it’s at the federal, state, or local

levels, are for the most part complex, convoluted, time-consuming, and in

many cases highly frustrating—to both government managers and the people

trying to get jobs with the government. In addition, the requirements of

factoring in veterans’ preference, the legitimate concerns about equal

employment opportunities (EEO) for all, competition from the private sector

(which can hire more quickly and doesn’t have the same procedures as

the government), centralized pressure to hire quickly when recruitment

authority is granted, unanticipated budget crunches, rigid pay systems, hiring

freezes, and others all make the hiring process challenging for government


According to the United States Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB),

which serves as an independent, bipartisan guardian of the merit systems

under which federal employees work, “There are barriers to recruiting a high

quality workforce. . . . First-line supervisors and other managers still indicate

that they have problems recruiting highly qualified applicants. These problems

may be due to insufficient recruitment strategies or incentives, the

slowness of the hiring process, or the use of inadequate measuring instruments,

and agencies should examine them further.”1

That being said, government managers can take many steps to enable

themselves to hire excellent employees, and that is part of the basis for this

book. Having been a government employee for more than 32 years, and a

government manager and leader for 28 years, I know firsthand what it is like

to try and hire employees within the constraints that exist.Moreover, during

nearly my entire career, I have hired people while working in high-cost areas

such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., which only made

the challenge even greater.

The first half of this book is devoted to showing readers how to hire

excellent government employees in a logical, integrated, and comprehensive

fashion. It is intended to be a road map for hiring quality people within a

government personnel system, regardless of the level of government. It is

based on both my experiences as a government human resources management

(HRM) expert and my many years as a government line manager and

senior executive.

This book is not meant to provide a “one-design-fits-all” approach to

recruitment. Rather, it offers a series of philosophies, strategies, and recruitment

tactics based on a deep understanding of the government’s HRM systems

and many years of working in the real world of government staffing

and line management that can then be customized to a specific, local situation.

The book is also designed to help you look at your entire process, ranging

from the time before vacancies even exist to the moment you begin your

recruitment process through rating and ranking candidates and up to the

final selection process and its aftermath. I am confident that if you adopt this

holistic approach, it will greatly aid you in building a first-class government

workforce—and preclude you from having to deal with too many poor-quality

employees down the road.

While building your workforce, it is quite likely that you are going to

find that one or more of your employees are simply not working out. They

may be holdovers from the past who have never been good employees and

have not been dealt with, they may be good employees whose performance

has suffered due to personal problems or other reasons, or they may be

recent hires who turned out to be poor selections despite your best efforts.

Regardless of the reason, most organizations, including high-performing

ones, have some poor performers. The difference is that the best organizations

deal with these employees, and the more marginal ones do not. This seems

to be especially true for government, given its myriad rules and culture,

wherein far too many problem employees are allowed to coast through their


From my perspective, this happens because many, if not most, government

managers have bought into the perception that you can’t fire a bad

employee. They believe that it is too difficult, too time-consuming, and too

much work so they often give up before they even get started. Personal experience,

or the lessons they have learned from others, has taught managers

that there is no point in trying to remove a bad apple because in the end they

will not prevail. So why go through all of the pain and suffering that the government’s

personnel system will impose on them?

The problem with this type of thinking is that it perpetuates the widespread

belief that you can’t fire a bad government employee. Once the public

believes this myth, it undermines their faith in government. Once your

employees believe this, it ruins their morale and makes them conclude that

they are working for a less-than-stellar organization that is not interested in

high performance. When your problem employees see that management is

not prepared to deal with them, they will be emboldened to slack off even

more and will try to influence marginal employees to take the same

approach. In short, you will be encouraging a cancer to metastasize in your

organization at a rapid rate.

This does not have to happen in government, nor should it. However, it

has been happening for decades because government leaders have done a relatively

poor job of building accountability into its personnel systems; leaders

have not taught their subordinate supervisors why it is so important to

deal with problem employees up front; and supervisors do not really know

how to go about actually dealing with a poor employee.

According to the MSPB, “In many Federal organizations, there is a culture

that sanctions not dealing effectively with problem employees. This

must be changed for the Government to effectively hold employees accountable

for their performance.”2

Make no mistake about it, changing the culture is not an easy thing to

do. The system is definitely complex and requires a high degree of technical

knowledge, which most supervisors do not possess.Moreover, going through

the process is not a pleasant experience because you will likely experience

pushback from the affected employee(s), which may very well entail one or

more complaints being filed against you. You may also get second-guessed or

overturned by upper management at some point in the process, which will

make your experience even more frustrating.

Herein lies the problem: How do we change the way that government

operates so that its management officials recognize that it is in their best

interest to deal with their problem employees? According to an MSPB report,

. . . despite the claims of some supervisors to the contrary, we

believe that the current system can provide the means to

deal with problem employees. This does not imply that

changes to the current system should not be considered; it

only implies that managers should not wait for systemic

adjustments before they take appropriate action in this area.

The current system does not, of course, make the process of

dealing with problem employees a particularly pleasant experience.

Nor does the system work well unless management

creates an organizational climate that makes it clear to all

employees that poor performance or misconduct will not be


I fully agree with that conclusion, which, by the way, was reached about

10 years ago. Since the time that MSPB report was issued, there have been no

significant changes to the system. The key continues to be to change the

mind-set of government managers by showing them the way and providing

them with the skills necessary to deal with poor employees, which includes

firing employees when necessary.

That is the purpose of the second part of this book: to teach readers how

to successfully terminate poor employees within the system that currently

exists.When appropriate, it should be and can be done.

Before I continue, let me be clear about one thing: You should fire a government

employee only as a last resort and only when it is the right thing to

do. Never fire someone because it is expedient or because you are trying to

show that you are a “tough guy.” Only take this step when it is appropriate

and will promote the efficiency of the government. Remember, your organization

has already invested an enormous amount of time, energy, and

money in the employee, so you should fire the person only when there is no

other reasonable alternative.

Please note that I do not consider a reasonable alternative to be moving

a problem employee from one team to another without addressing the root

cause. Otherwise you are merely perpetuating the problem, creating

headaches for the employee’s new supervisor, and sending a message to the

rest of the workforce that you are not serious about dealing with difficult


Also, I do not consider giving a well-known problem employee a “slap

on the wrist” because that is not going to change his behavior either. As you

will learn later on in this book, in order to successfully deal with a true problem

employee, as opposed to a good employee whose conduct or performance

problem is merely an aberration, you need to let the employee know

that if he doesn’t change his performance or behavior, you are prepared to

remove him. That is the only way to let the employee know you are serious.

After all, when you are dealing with someone who is truly a problem (i.e.,

someone who is in the bottom 10 percent of your workforce), the only successful

outcomes are to either change the person or change the person. The

one outcome that is not acceptable is maintaining the status quo, wherein

the employee continues to behave and act in an unacceptable manner. That

must change; otherwise, the employee will surely pollute your workplace and

other employees will conclude that management is sanctioning the employee’s

actions and that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

If there are no reasonable alternatives to firing the employee, and progressive

discipline has not worked (more about that topic in Section 2: How

to Fire a Government Employee), then by all means go forward and take

action to remove the employee. This book will show you how to fire an

employee in a fair, logical, and defensible manner. It will provide you with

tips on how to go about it, including how to conduct an investigation, how

to document your actions, how to write charges, how to put together an evidence

file, how and when to settle a case, and, if not settlement, how to prevail

before a third party. It will also demystify the process for you, so you will

know what you are getting into, what the potential pitfalls are (and how to

avoid them), and what to expect along the way.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Section I How to Hire a Government Employee 1

1 The Government's Hiring Process 3

History 4

Outlook 13

Look at Your Own Processes 16

2 Developing Your Strategy 19

Anticipatory Recruitment 21

Traditional Approach 22

Anticipatory Recruitment Approach 23

Targeting Your Pool 24

The Vacancy Announcement 25

Deciding Who to Target 28

Expect the Unexpected 33

Where and How to Advertise 34

Getting Out into the Market 35

Making Your Organization More Desirable 37

Don't Forget the People Who Already Work for You 40

3 Screening and Interviewing the Candidates 45

Screening 45

Rating 45

Substitution of Education for Specialized Experience 46

Ranking 5

Veterans' Preference 53

5-Point Preference (TP) 53

10-Point Disability Preference 54

Interviewing 55

Preparation 56

The Interview Itself 58

4 Post-Interview Review/Making Your Decision 65

Following Up with Previous Employers 67

The Selection Itself 69

The Rule of Three 70

Rule of Three Considerations 71

Veterans' Preference 72

Objecting to Veterans 74

Category-Based Ratings 75

Who to Select 77

Once the Selection Is Made 79

Orientation 79

Section 2 How to Fire a Government Employee 81

5 Handling Poor Employees 83

Why Does the Government Not Deal with Poor Performers as Frequently as It Should? 85

History of Employee Protections in the Civil Service 85

Working the System 91

What Can Be Done to Change the Way That the Government Holds Its Employees Accountable? 93

Your Organization's Mind-Set 94

The Skills and Abilities of Your Management Team 96

Your Advisors 98

Your Overall Strategy for Dealing with Poor Employees 100

Identify ProblemEmployees 100

Bring the Problem to a Head 102

Take as Strong an Action as You Can 103

Weeding Out Problem Employees during Probation 105

6 Firing for Misconduct 109

The Investigation 110

Deciding What to Do 113

Burden of Proof 114

Writing and Issuing the Proposed Removal 125

Sample Proposed Removal Letter 130

Considering the Employee's Response 133

The Decision Letter 137

Sample Decision Letter 137

7 Firing for Poor Performance 141

Overview 141

Performance Appraisal System 143

Performance Standards 145

Communication and Feedback 150

Sample Counseling Letter 152

Going Forward 153

Dealing with a Poor Performer 155

Sample Performance Improvement Letter 159

The Opportunity Period 161

Sample Memo Documenting PIP Counseling 163

Employee Allegations and Requests 164

When the Opportunity Period Ends 167

Sample Proposed Removal Letter 169

The Decision to Fire 171

Sample Decision Letter 172

8 The Hearing 175

Where Employees Can Appeal Their Removals 176

Merit Systems Protection Board 177

Arbitration 178

Framing the Issue 179

Discovery 180

The Hearing 181

Likelihood of Success 182

Cost 184

Your Representatives 185

The Evidence File 187

Preparing for the Hearing 188

The Hearing Itself 194

Settling the Case 195

Opening Statement 197

Presenting Your Case 197

Addressing the Appellant's Case 199

Closing Arguments 200

Notes 203

Index 219

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