A proposed reduction-in-force policy may not make county employees happy, but a statewide tax initiative has prompted the Utah County Commission to prepare for massive layoffs just the same.

If tax limitation proves successful this fall, the county will be forced to lay off about one-fourth of its 400-employee work force, said Commissioner Brent Morris.Commissioners hope the new policy, based on seniority, will help the county avoid lawsuits when forced to lay off employees. The county's previous policy - which included seniority and employee performance and evaluation in determining layoff order - resulted in at least two lawsuits against the county by laid-off employees.

Under the proposed policy, to be further considered Wednesday, career service employees will be allowed to use what are known as bumping rights.

"Senior employees are permitted to displace junior workers (in the same category of work) and assume their jobs at the grade level of the junior worker," the proposed policy says. "Senior employees must have performed the work at some previous time and require little or no training."

During Monday's county commission meeting, Personnel Director John McGinn said the problem with employee evaluations is that they're not always current.

"Problems occur mostly in that area," he said. Layoffs based on seniority create a "much cleaner system," McGinn said.

"Cleaner means less lawsuits," Morris said. Theoretically, he said, if employees have been with the county for an extended period, their performance should have been satisfactory. However, he added, that may not always be the case.

"In theory, the deadwood would be weeded out," said Paula Tomlin, president of the Utah County Employee Association and a county data processor. "But that's not true. I feel it (the reduction policy) should be based more on performance than seniority."

She said the new policy would completely ignore employee behavior and performance as a factor in laying off workers. In addition, Tom-lin said, the proposed policy's bump-ing procedure is ambiguous. She also expressed concern over whether the policy would allow inter-departmental bumping.

Morris said the tax limitation movement, if successful, would require cuts in every department. He suggested, however, that employees bumped down in position be allowed to keep their higher-status wage.

McGinn replied that employee reductions are caused by decreased funding and that the county would be able to retain a greater number of employees by assigning the lower wage levels to those bumped down.

"I think it's probably the least equitable, but the most manageable," said Commissioner Gary Anderson of the policy.