Lateral Transfers in a Government Agency

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A lateral transfer is the movement of an employee from one job to another within a government organization at the same pay grade. If an employee can request a transfer, the organization must approve the move. Government agencies have detailed policies and procedures surrounding lateral moves to ensure fairness and to mitigate the chances that an employee will legally challenge the move as unfair or discriminatory.

Why an Employee Would Ask for a Lateral Transfer

An employee might ask for lateral transfers for any number of reasons, but they often include wanting a different supervisor or moving geographically to accommodate a spouse’s new job. The employee might be experiencing burnout in his current duties and he wants to broaden his expertise or skills without actually moving to a new job with a different company. 

Why an Organization Would Prompt a Lateral Transfer

Likewise, an organization might initiate a lateral transfer for various reasons. It might experience a reduction in force necessitating that it move workers around to better focus its resources on the most mission-critical functions. The organization may experience changes in the populations it serves and needs to reposition staff to meet changing demands for services.

Lateral Transfers Within the Government 

Lateral transfers can be very helpful to government organizations. At the beginning of its own lateral transfer policy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “The Institute encourages lateral movement to a different job within the same level or grade when appropriate. Such movement not only helps an organization through cross-training, but it also offers employees development opportunities to broaden their knowledge and enhance their professional growth.” 

Some Examples

  • The spouse of a state correctional officer gets a job in another city. The family really wants this move to happen, but the correctional officer himself needs a job to make it work. Fortunately, the new town has state prisons. The correctional officer requests a transfer to a facility in the new town. The facility happens to have a vacant position at the correctional officer’s current job classification. The warden happily accepts a trained and experienced officer where he would likely have gotten an untrained and inexperienced new hire otherwise. 
  • A government accountant has been working in accounts payable for five years. Lately, she has become bored with purchase requisitions, contracts, and payments. She needs something new, but she still wants to be involved in finance. She notices that the accounts receivable area need more people, so she volunteers to transfer from accounts payable to accounts receivable. The accounting manager grants the transfer because it will benefit both the employee and the organization.
  • A city has rapid growth on one side of town. New neighborhoods are being built as fast as construction crews can erect them. The fire chief reviews the city’s firehouse locations and realizes that the city needs to build an additional firehouse among the burgeoning neighborhoods. Since the construction of a firehouse will take more than a year, the fire chief decides to transfer some firefighters from less populated parts of town to the firehouse nearest the new development.

    As you can see, lateral transfers can work well and be advantageous for both employer and employee. If you're experiencing a dilemma that might be cured by such a move, there's no harm in reaching out to see if a lateral transfer is available to you.