Federal employees that leave government service may now be able to return to government work at a higher grade level without going through the normal competition process, under a final rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management June 7.

The rule gives agencies the authority to reinstate a departed employee at a higher grade level than when they left, if they have gained relevant experience for that new grade from outside government, as current regulation only allows such reinstatement at the same grade as the employee had when they left.

Reinstated employees can also be placed in a career with greater promotional potential than they had before.

In its proposal period, the rule largely received support from individuals and agencies, though some worried that it would give departed feds greater advantage for getting hired than current feds trying to move up along the career path.

“An agency may also consider and select from among candidates who qualified through the normal progression through established steps and grades and the agency’s merit promotion program,” OPM responded.

“OPM believes that permitting these choices will enhance the quality of hiring, and thus government, generally, and enable agencies to exploit knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired and developed both within and outside the federal sector, enhancing diversity of thought and methods and enriching the workforce. In that scenario, the federal government recoups the value of the training and development invested in the employee when he or she was previously in federal service and recoups the benefit of the additional training and development the person received while working outside of government.”

Federal time-in-grade restrictions still apply to such reinstatements, meaning that those employees must have worked at least 52 weeks in a lower grade of federal service to be eligible for later reinstatement without competition.

Former career-conditional employees — those that did not complete their probationary period to become permanent employees prior to leaving federal service — are eligible for reinstatement for up to three years, while permanent employees are eligible for life.

This does not mean that an agency has to rehire an employee who wishes to return to federal service at a higher grade, but rather that they have the option to do so more expeditiously if they need to.

Such rehiring options were recommended as part of a congressional-commission’s report on expanding government service, and several federal HR efforts have focused on ways to make it easier for a new generation of feds to move in and out of government jobs over the course of their careers.

The reinstatement rule takes effect 30 days from its publication in the federal register.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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