Request for Retroactive Promotion and Backpay

B-200669: May 6, 1981

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A request was made for a decision as to whether a Railroad Retirement Board employee may be retroactively promoted to a higher grade level in circumstances where an agency staffing specialist erred in determining her eligibility for the higher grade level in connection with a promotion action. Following agency merit promotion procedures, a staffing specialist reviewed the personnel folders of all of the competing applicants to determine their eligibility for the position and grade level for which the applicants were eligible. A register of applicants was prepared and forwarded to the merit promotion panel along with the merit promotion materials on the eligible candidates including grade level qualification. The agency advised GAO that when a vacancy at the Board may be filled at more than one grade level, the personnel staffing specialists always rate eligible applicants at the highest grade for which the applicants qualify. All experience, training, and education that is part of an employee's official personnel folder as of the closing date of a vacancy announcement is used in making the determination of basic eligibility for the position and the grade level at which the applicant is eligible. It was subsequently determined that, in this employee's case, the personnel staffing specialist failed to include her junior college degree in the determination of her overall eligibility profile. The agency stated that the employee served at the erroneously established pay level for almost 1 year before being properly adjusted to the higher grade level and given the promotion. Backpay may be awarded as a remedy for wrongful reduction in grade, removals and suspensions, and other unjustified actions affecting pay or allowance. A prerequisite for the award of backpay is a determination by an appropriate authority that an employee has undergone an unjustified personnel action. It is a well settled rule that the granting of promotions from grade to grade is a discretionary matter primarily within the province of the agency involved. There was nothing in the record to indicate that the promotion of the employee was nondiscretionary. No statute, regulations, labor-management agreement, or other binding agency directive mandated the promotion after a given time had passed. Nor did there appear to be any agency regulation, policy or procedure regarding processing time for promotion requests. Accordingly, the employee's promotion may not be effected retroactively.