WASHINGTON — The probationary period for many new civilian employees hired by the Defense Department on or after Nov. 26, 2015, has changed from one year to two years, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy said.
Julie Blanks confirmed the change to the statute governing the probationary period in a memorandum to human resources directors Sept. 27.
The new law took effect Nov. 26, 2015, as part of the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, said DOD spokesman Eric Pahon.
Who’s affected, who’s not
The new probationary period affects employees who are appointed to permanent positions in the competitive service, and anyone who received career DOD appointments in the Senior Executive Service on or after Nov. 26, 2015, Blanks’ memo noted.
The change doesn’t apply to employees appointed prior to that date or those appointed in excepted service, the spokesman said.
“DOD appointees serving a probationary period who were appointed before Nov. 26, 2015, are not affected by the new law and will continue to complete a one-year probationary period,” Pahon said. “The (one-year) supervisory probationary period … is not affected by the new two-year probationary period. However, those employees who are newly appointed to a supervisory position who are required to serve both a supervisory probationary period and a probationary period … will serve (both) concurrently.”
The law also allows DOD and its military departments to “exercise their discretion to extend a covered employee’s probationary period past the new two-year requirement,” Blanks’ memo read, and added DOD policy for that provision is being developed.
Transferring to DOD
Probationary terms can vary when an employee is appointed to a new position outside his or her current agency, officials said. These include:
• An employee transferring from another agency who has already completed a probationary period under an initial appointment in the competitive service, having attained full appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board, does not have to serve another probationary period under this authority.
• An employee transferring from another agency who receives a career appointment in the SES in the DOD on or after Nov. 26, 2015, must serve a two-year probationary period.
• An employee transferring from another agency who has not completed a probationary period and is appointed to a position in DOD may be required to complete a new probationary period. Credit for prior federal civilian service toward completion of a probationary period may apply in accordance with applicable federal regulation.
Why the law changed
The reason for the change in the law stems from the increasingly complex nature of much of the work performed by DOD employees, Pahon explained. One year often does not allow sufficient time for a supervisor to form conclusions regarding the performance of a new employee, he pointed out.
For example, supervisors might not have adequate time to observe employees if the new hires must spend much of the first year in training before beginning work, often rotate through various offices within the first year of employment, or because occupations are project-based and new employees don’t have an opportunity to demonstrate all the skills associated with their positions, he said.
“Regardless of the reason, the longer probationary period offers employees a greater opportunity to showcase their talents and for supervisors to properly assess their capabilities,” Pahon added.