States Consider Removing Civil Service Protections for Employees

In light of the current fiscal realities states are faced with, government employees from around the nation have found themselves the object of increasing scorn from both the public and their own employers.  Most notably, Wisconsin became a battleground for labor issues beginning in 2010, as Governor Scott Walker pushed legislation which included provisions which cut benefits for government employees, including reductions in civil service protections.

Originally, civil service laws were enacted to remove patronage from government employment. The job protection measures included in civil service laws were meant to ensure that government employment is based on merit rather than political affiliation.  Theoretically, by insulating government employees from political influence, they could perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively—ultimately benefiting the public, who would enjoy an efficient government run by effective public servants.

However, a few states are now revisiting the idea of stripping civil service protections from government employment. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer recently proposed legislation which would require most new government employees to be hired under “at-will” contracts—meaning that these employees can be terminated at any time, and for any reason, as long as it’s not illegal. (It’s important to note that all states except Montana presume that employment is at will).  More significantly, the proposed legislation would offer a 5% pay increase to any government employee who voluntarily elects to become at-will. The Governor estimates that if this bill passes, more than 80% of the government workforce would be at-will within the next four years. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Justin Olson, touts that the bill “will implement common sense reforms,” while “bring[ing] Arizona’s state personnel system in-line with the most effective practices of the private sector.”

Arizona is not the first state to switch to civil service protection. Georgia switched to a largely at-will system in 1996, as did Indiana  more recently.

Other states are beginning to consider removing civil service protections as well. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam proposed legislation which would remove most civil service protections. In Colorado, Governor John Hickenloop called for bringing “the state’s antiquated personnel system into the 21st century.”

Click here for a more in-depth overview of this issue.