If you work for the government, odds are 100 to one that something officially unpleasant - a demotion, suspension or dismissal - will hit you this year.

In the cool impersonal language of bureaucratic law those unpleasant things are called "adverse actions." In real terms it means the people affected could lose their grade level, money or job.

So-called adverse actions against government workers jumped from 11,682 in fiscal 1975 to 17,577 in 1976. That isn't a high on-the-job mortality rate by some private industry standards, but it means a whole lot to the government people involved.

The majority of those adverse actions are demotions or downgradings. More than 12,000 government workers (mostly blue collar types) got the bad news last year that their grades, for one reason or another, were too high. That was a big jump from the 7,500 who got the same bad news the year before.

About half the people hit with an adverse action appeal it.The government unit that handles those appeals - the Federal Employees Appeals Authority - regularly tosses out about 25 per cent of the appeals either because it has no jurisdiction or because the appeal was not timely. Most of the no-jurisdiction cases involve postal workers who are NOT veterans, therefore not entitled to appeal.

Of the remaining cases, the FEAA upholds the agency about 67 per cent of the time and goes for the employees in the rest of the cases. Only a few cases (about one third of the total) are reversed on the merits. Most are ruled in favor of the employee because the agency that wanted to fire, demote or suspend the employee made some procedural goof along the line.

Federal officials estimate than 6 of every 10 adverse action appeals are made in demotion cases. They expect that figure to remain constant, or jump as agencies bear down on desk audits and classification studies and rule that more workers are improperly in grades that are too high, and pay too much, for what the employee is doing.

Each one of those cases costs the government, that is to say the taxpayers (and federal workers pay taxes like the rest of us), an average of $586 a year. That means some cost a lot less, some much more.

Some federal officials think that one way out of the situation is to eliminate downgradings altogether. The way to do it would be to guarantee employees demoted through no fault of their own that their grade and salary would be protected for as long as they remained in their present jobs. Their position would be "redlined" for downgrading, but would not actually be downgraded until they leave it.