National security hiring always involves the careful consolidation of two elements – hiring, and personnel vetting. Those two elements work hand-in-hand, but the policies around them can make the process a bit confusing. A common question for security clearance applicants is if their employer can fire them if they’re unable to obtain an interim clearance. The short answer is: yes.
What is an interim security clearance?
An interim security clearance is based on an automated check and is only available to clearance applicants outside of the Intelligence Community agencies. An interim security clearance allows an individual to access classified information, and perform certain aspects of their job, while they await a final clearance determination. Generally, if you have red flag issues (bad credit, employment misconduct, or a criminal background), obtaining an interim security clearance is difficult.
If you’re hired by an employer, you may wonder if they can fire you for failing to obtain an interim clearance. While you are subject to whatever employment laws apply to your situation, in general, if an employer indicates an ability to obtain a clearance as a job requirement – and their contract or work requires a favorable interim clearance – it would be within their rights to terminate your employment. A security clearance is considered a privilege, not a right. You may not have a lot of recourse if your employer looks to terminate your employment due to an interim clearance denial, but you do have some options for attempting to get your clearance back on track.
The reason many contracts would terminate employment after an interim clearance denial are twofold – one, their current contract simply requires all individuals to already have a clearance, and they lose money for onboarding you without being able to put you to work. In that case, you may be able to get your new employer to continue sponsoring your clearance while you remain on another job/await the final clearance determination.
Second, they may be concerned that even if they go through the process with you, your final clearance will be denied. You can help reassure them by being proactive – indicate the issues you believe may have caused an interim clearance denial, and why they shouldn’t result in a final clearance denial. The numbers are on your side – just 2% of security clearance applicants face denial of their clearance eligibility.
As always, fortune favors the prepared. Be proactive – be willing to be taken off the paid bench while you wait the final determination, and get your paperwork in order to show an employer while your overall odds are good – and you’ll be less likely to face both an interim clearance denial and a pink slip.