WHEN NOT TO GRIEVE WIGI DENIALS
In virtually every other situation, the rule of thumb is that the deadline for filing a grievance begins to run when the agency issues its written decision. But not when a WIGI is involved–and not knowing the WIGI rule cost one employee a lot of back pay.
WIGI stands for Within-Grade Increase; some people call it an ALOC which stands for Acceptable Level of Competence determination; still other merely call it a step increase decision. According to all statistics, managers very rarely deny employees these salary increases that amount to about a 3% base pay increase. Consequently, it is not surprising that union reps know very little about the rules for challenging these decisions when the pay increase is denied.
Often, the agency gives the employee advance warning that it proposes to deny his/her next increase. However, OPM regs only require that the employee be notified as soon as possible after the completion of a waiting period that the supervisor has decided to withhold it because of inadequate performance. Generally, that performance is below Fully Successful but not Unacceptable. Most agencies label that the Minimally Successful rating level.
Management is required to put its decision to deny in writing, along with the reasons why the step has been withheld, give the notice to the employee, and offer the employee an opportunity to ask that a higher- level manager “reconsider” the decision.
Given that the notice is not a proposal or warning, but decision, most will be tempted to file a grievance rather than pursue the “reconsideration” process. After all, how much can we expect from one level of management reviews the decision of a subordinate level of management? Don’t give in to that temptation because the employee is required to pursue reconsideration and get a decision from that second level management before the employee can grieve and arbitrate the denial.
One SSA employee and her union rep learned this the hard way. That employee filed a grievance when her step increase was denied and the union took it to arbitration without ever requesting or participating in a reconsideration. The arbitration went well for the employee; the arbitrator ordered that she be given her increase retroactively with back pay and interest on that money.
The agency responded by filing exceptions with FLRA and arguing that OPM regulations provide that an arbitrator does not have jurisdiction over a denied step increase until the reconsideration decision has been issued. It is only then that the union can start the grievance process. The Authority agreed and voided the arbitration award. (See AFGE, 35 FLRA 1167 (1990))
In light of how rarely denials occur, the union might be wise to clearly state the rule in the negotiated agreement provisions dealing with step increases and/or grievance filing deadlines. Another option to keep in mind is skipping over the grievance process all together given that the employee already has two levels of decisions. Why waste time in a grievance if you can get management to agree that reconsideration denials go directly to arbitration?
(This posting first appeared in June 2012.)