What Rights Does a Senior Executive Have in a Geographic Reassignment?

A career SES member of SEA called last month indicating he had recently been told by his supervisor that his agency wants him to move to a different SES position outside his local commuting area. In this case, the organization indicated they needed the SES manager to move from his agency's headquarters office in the DC area to a regional office in the Midwest where he would be put in charge of an important new program. The member, in his early sixties, has been a federal employee for over 25 years and is enrolled in the "old" (CSRS) retirement system.

He expressed to me that a permanent move would be very difficult for his family because his wife would have to quit her job and they need both incomes because of two children in college. Their situation is also complicated by his elderly father, who lives nearby and relies on his help for a variety of basic life activities. The member wanted to know what rights both the agency and he have in this type of situation and how he might dissuade the agency from geographically reassigning him or finding other alternatives – at least for the foreseeable future.

Rights and Responsibilities: If the agency wants to reassign a career SES outside the commuting area, it is required to provide advance notice and to allow the executive to be consulted on the matter beforehand. The consultation should give the executive an opportunity to set forth the economic consequences of a move and the individual's concerns about such matters as personal health, family disruption, the health needs of other family members and other issues. During the consultation, the executive should set forth his or her circumstances and any reasons for not wanting to be reassigned as forcefully and persuasively as possible. The executive should also suggest other alternatives (e.g., possible short term detail to the new position until another candidate can be found). However, the consultation is just that – an opportunity for the agency and the executive to hear each other out. Per OPM policy guidance, the agency, in the end, has the flexibility to move the executive notwithstanding personal hardship or dissatisfaction.

Agency Requirements: (1) Providing Advance notice of the Reassignment Agencies are required to provide 60 calendar days advance notice of the effective date of a directed reassignment outside the commuting area. The notice must provide the reasons for the reassignment. The employee, if in agreement with the action can choose to waive all or part of this period. (2) Legitimate Management Reason Agencies can make directed reassignments of SES and other employees to equivalent level positions outside the local commuting area only if they have a legitimate management reason for doing so.

Challenging the Agency's Action In truth, civil service history is unfortunately filled with examples of "sham" directed geographic reassignments that were undertaken for illegitimate reasons. For example, as reprisal for whistleblowing or in hopes an executive who is out of favor with his or her superiors will resign or retire rather than move. When executives ¬refuse a directed reassignment they can be removed from federal service. However, if the executive feels the agency did not have a legitimate management reason for the directed reassignment, he or she may appeal to the MSPB and seek to be restored to their position. Also, an executive may believe that his or her directed reassignment was due to discrimination because of age, gender, race or other prohibited reasons. In these cases the executive can appeal through the discrimination complaints process and seek to be reinstated

Other Possible Options: (1) Discontinued Service Retirement In those cases where the executive (as in the above member's situation) is 50 years of age and has at least 20 years of federal service (of if the person has 25 years of service at any age) and has received a directed reassignment outside the commuting area, he or she will likely be eligible to elect to retire on discontinued service retirement and receive an annuity. (2) Seek a New Job Of course, SES executives facing unwanted reassignments can look for another job, within or outside their agency. In addition to searching USA Jobs they should contact other Federal executives they know to find out about vacancies. Career SES can generally be appointed to any vacant SES position without competition. (3) Voluntary Downgrade SES employees can offer to accept a voluntary downgrade to a lower graded position (e.g., GS-15) for which they are qualified, as a way to stay in their local commuting area. All of these options, and any others which might make sense under the circumstances, require careful research and weighing of pros and cons by the executive.

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