Understanding “surplus” designations for federal public service…

Cropped image of HR Guide title page

So, the federal Public Service is downsizing. Which means they are going to cut staff. And like all large bureaucracies, there are bureaucratic terms to understand what it means if you get “laid off”, so to speak. But wait, you say you have a letter appointing you in the first place to an indeterminate position, presumably “permanent”? Except that isn’t what “indeterminate” means. It means of “undetermined length of time”. Now, they’re telling you the real length of time. So you’re done sometime perhaps soon. Or are you?

How do you get downsized? Well you can be subject to “workforce adjustment” if the government decides to:

  • cut your position due to lack of work (i.e. they cut your job’s functions, often by cutting your program);
  • they’re moving the job somewhere else and you refused to go; or,
  • they’re implementing an alternative delivery initiative (usually contracting it out or automating, but not always).

So, you are workforce-adjusted, and you fall into one of three new status categories:

  1. “Affected” — this means you’ve got a letter that says your services MAY NOT be required…think of this as a “warning shot”. The good news is that it allows you to be put on “priority” lists within a department to allow you to apply for other jobs;
  2. “Surplus” — this means you’ve got a letter that says your services WILL NOT be required…direct hit. The good news is that it puts you on departmental lists, plus PSC lists, until you get a job through what is called a Reasonable Job Offer (i.e. equivalent to your current level) or you quit / retire or you get a RJO but refuse it;
  3. “Opting” — this means you got a letter saying “bye” (surplus), but haven’t got a RJO yet and four months have passed, you go into “opting” status, choosing between another 12 month period of waiting, take a lump sum payment, or take a lump sum payment + education allowance.

At the moment, the lump sum payments are likely to be fairly basic. Not unlike regular severance packages in the private sector.

Will there be “buy-outs” to encourage early retirement? Not yet, not really. Because at this point, there aren’t enough affected employees across the government to make buy-outs necessary. In a couple of years, if the number of people in affected / surplus / opting status are large enough, the various deputy ministers might complain to Treasury Board that they need something “extra” to offer people in the opting category to make it more attractive, i.e. to get people off the books, and buy-outsre particularly attractive for those close to retirement. Which means at that time, the “lump sums” might increase. Probably with some restrictions based on years of service (i.e. to make it attractive only to those near to retirement). But we’re not there yet. So, for now, the options will be basic — another year of work, or some money to quit, or some money to quit with a little extra for education. Not chicken-feed, but not the buy-outs for early retirement that were offered in the 1990s.

For newer public servants, it’s possible 12 more months of employment may be more $$ than the lump-sum; for longer-serving workers, it’ll be a financial calculation which is better. And of course your likelihood of getting a good RJO may depend on whether you’re in a specialized field that will be hard to find an equivalent position for, or you’re a generic type who can do lots of different things, or you’re in a specialized field but for which there is high demand (like computers or HR or finance).