Government workers who joke about Saddam Hussein, Elizabeth Taylor's nuptials, thrifty Scots, religion, mothers-in-law or the fighting Irish could be denied raises and promotions under new job performance standards.

A growing number of U.S. agencies are giving more emphasis to the racial, ethnic, sex and age sensitivity of government employees as a critical component of their jobs. Some employees welcome the new emphasis as long overdue. Others complain that it smacks of "Big brother is watching."

Each year, bosses rate employee performance. Those ratings determine who gets longevity raises (worth 3 percent) and promotions.

Jobs have several so-called critical elements. Workers must earn "fully successful" or better on each of them to get an overall passing mark. Most elements deal with how the employee does the job -- handles deadlines, directions and the like.

The Agriculture Department has recently added a separate "generic equal opportunity/civil rights element" to performance ratings of its 100,000-plus workers. Like other departments, it had combined equal opportunity/civil rights with other job elements in the past.

" . . . Its own category will make it more important and . . . we hope make employees more sensitive," an official said yesterday. But a supervisor at the Agricultural Research Service said, "Lots of people here are ticked off and running scared. They worry about 'getting reported' for doing something they thought was innocent or for saying something they didn't say!"

Agriculture's new standard requires that workers demonstrate fairness toward colleagues and visitors, and commitment to official anti-discrimination campaigns. It urges attendance at "special emphasis" events such as Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage observances and "designated days for Asian Pacific and Native American cultural observances."

Agricultural Research Service guidelines urge that official presentations, written materials and "terms used in discussions with co-workers are free of gender specific language."

Actions in support of the new equal opportunity element mean that an employee "takes the initiative to immediately stop conversations where racial, ethnic or sexual overtones or offensive comments about age, religion, national origin, color, disability or marital status are obvious."

Federal Investors

Most people in the Federal Employees Retirement System need to invest at least 5 percent in the thrift savings plan to get pensions that are comparable to benefits under the old Civil Service Retirement System, said Dennis M. Gurtz, finance columnist for Government Executive magazine. At noon tomorrow on WNTR radio (1050-AM) Gurtz will talk about when workers should -- and should not -- invest in the stock, bond and Treasury options of their $8 billion savings plan.

Job Mart

The Office of Personnel Management wants a Grade 13/14 lawyer with contract law experience. Call Joan Scrivener at 202-606-1700.

The Library of Congress has openings for two correspond- ence unit supervisors, Grade 7, and a supervisory accounting clerk, GS 8. Call Susan Kames at 202-707-6651.