Each year about 8,600 federal workers get the bad news that they are being demoted. The downgradings either come about because a "desk audit" confirms that their jobs are overgraded, or in the majority of the cases, a reorganization within their agency "bumps" them down one or more pay grades.

However it comes, these "no fault" demotions are a major jolt. Employes normally are allowed to remain at their old salaries for up to two years, but after that they revert to the salary of their new, lower grade.

The number of demotions is expected to increase dramatically in future, as agencies get tougher with desk audits and classification standards, and as President Carter's reorganization of the civil service goes into effect.

The bright spot on the horizon for government workers who have been downgraded or face demotion, is legislation already approved by the House Post Office-Civil Service Committee. It is a hybrid version of a bill sponsored by Chairman Robert N. C. Nix (D-Pa.), and one backed by the White House.

To make sure the bill gets through, House leaders have - as reported here earlier - tacked in onto the president's much bigger civil service "reform" package. That will be taken up by the full House sometime this month. It is expected to pass.

The Nix-Carter proposal guarantees limited to lifetime pay and grade protection (depending on the type of demotion) for dederal workers. And it would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 1977, meaning anybody affected by a no-fault demotion since then would be restored to his or her old grade.

The combined bill would provide pay and grade protection in demotions resulting from discovery of classification error, and in downgradings caused by reorganization or reduction-in-force. Earlier, I reported that the bill would not cover RIF situations, but the final Carter-Nix legislation does provide protection in RIF-related demotions.

It would work like this:

Suppose you are due to be demoted because a desk audit of your job indicates you are in a higher pay grade than warranted. If the error was not your fault, you would be able to remain in your present grade for as long as you stayed in the same job. It would give lifetime protection to both your grade and pay. Once you retired or left, the job would revert to the lower grade where it is properly classified.

If your job was scheduled for a lower grade because of a reorganization or RIF, you would be entitled to retain your resent grade for two full years. You would get subsequent pay raises at your current grade level.

At the end of the two-year period, you would then revert to the lower, downgraded level but keep your current salary. Future pay increases would be reduced on a prorated basis until your salary finally is adjusted to the level of that grade.

So in the case of demotion due to reclassification, you would keep life-time grade and pay protection so long as you stayed in that job. In the case of a RIF or reorganization-related demotion, the grade would be "saved" for two years and pay would be adjusted through subsequent raises.