Reduction in Force

Man packing up office
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A reduction in force is a thoughtful and systematic elimination of positions. For all practical purposes, a government RIF is the same thing as a layoff.

Avoiding a Lawsuit

When RIFs are not done well and when there is insufficient communication with employees, lawsuits are more likely to be filed by those who are adversely impacted. Organizations must stick to predetermined criteria when sorting out what happens to each employee. They must communicate with employees how and why decisions are made. Knowing this information helps employees process the bad news.

RIFs in the Federal Government

The US Office of Personnel Management is responsible for overseeing RIFs by federal agencies. These agencies may choose when they want to implement a RIF, but they must follow the rules set forth by OPM.

In deciding who stays and who goes, federal agencies must take four factors into account:

  1. Tenure
  2. Veteran status
  3. Total federal civilian and military service
  4. Performance

Agencies cannot use RIF procedures to fire bad employees. Adverse personnel actions must be taken on an individual basis. While performance is a factor in RIFs, it is only one factor. Agencies can’t simply get rid of their lowest performers.

When agencies furlough employees for more than 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous work days, they must use RIF procedures.

An employee can be terminated or moved into an available position. The new position does not have to be at the same pay grade, but it does have to be within three grades or grade intervals of an employee’s current position. There can be a series of “bumping” that can go on as employees are placed in lower positions displacing employees in filled positions.

Agencies must give employees 60 days notice before being terminated. In extreme circumstances, OPM can allow agencies to give as little as 30 days notice.

If employees believe they have been unfairly treated, they can file an appeal with the Merit System Protection Board. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the RIF action.

Getting Rehired

Sometimes people in the private sector are hired back to their companies once they are laid off. Because of the budget structures in government, being brought back to the government organization is rare. People tend to come back by applying for vacant positions that were spared in the RIF process. Because these employees have experience with the organization, they have a leg up in the hiring process.


  • A state legislature reduces an agency’s number of full-time equivalent positions by 10%. After factoring in the number of vacant positions, the agency’s human resources department determines that that agency needs to lose 6% of its current employees. The agency considers reducing employees by attrition but based on the agency’s turnover rate, human resources staff determine that this will not work. The agency decides they must implement a RIF in order to get the FTE countdown to an acceptable level.
  • A city government decides it can save money by privatizing its trash collection. The city decides to implement a RIF of trash truck drivers and sanitation supervisors. The company that will take over trash collection will hire most of the displaced employees, but the city still needs a RIF to determine the order in which employees may be placed in vacant positions.