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Career And Unclassified Service, Allocation, and Desk Audits Under New Jersey Civil Service Law

How a New Jersey public employment position is classified can have enormous effects on an employee’s rights.  This blog describes some of the details about how the New Jersey Civil Service Commission classifies New Jersey Civil Service jobs, and what the consequences of thoseNJ_State_House-300x200 classifications are.


Some terms

Under New Jersey Civil Service Law, jobs are classified by “titles.”  Titles are based on duties, responsibilities, and qualifications.  “Career service” employees serve in “classified” titles, “unclassified employees” serve in “unclassified” titles.


Career Service versus Unclassified Service

Generally speaking, career service employees serve in classified titles and receive the full protections of the Civil Service System, while employees serving in unclassified titles do not.  Thus, employees in where unclassified titles can be fired for any non-discriminatory or retaliatory reason without a hearing, but employees in classified titles can only be let go after receiving due process including notice, a hearing and the right to appeal.

The general rule is that all New Jersey Civil Service titles are “classified” unless specified by law as unclassified.  As Judge Holson explained, “classified service includes civil service personnel, except policy makers such as elected officials and department heads and other groups specifically listed within the unclassified service.”  In determining whether an employee falls within the classified or unclassified service, it is “the courts’ duty to give the widest possible range to the Act can be satisfied only by declaring for inclusion [in the classified service] unless clear exclusion is manifested by specific listing of unclassified positions, and doubt should be resolved in favor of inclusion [in the classified service] unless violence would be done to statutory language otherwise.”

The division between classified and unclassified service applies to both State and local appointing authorities.


Career Service

The general rule is thus positions are classified and the employees serving in New Jersey Civil Service jobs are in the career service unless an exception applies.  The vast majority of New Jersey public employees are in the career service holding classified titles.

Career service job title classifications includes both competitive and non-competitive titles.  Competitive titles require candidates to pass an examination before permanent appointment and include the vast majority of government employees.  Indeed, even police chiefs in Civil Service jurisdictions are selected based on competitive testing.  Non-competitive titles do not require a test.  Non-competitive titles generally require special skills or licensing, such as a municipal engineer.


State Unclassified Service

New Jersey State Government employees serving in unclassified titles are not subject to the provisions of the Civil Service Act unless otherwise specified.  The unclassified service includes:

  • Appointments of the Governor;
  • Department heads and members of Commissions and commissions authorized by law;
  • Employees in the legislative branch of State government;
  • Heads of institutions;
  • Superintendents, teachers and instructors in the public schools, the agricultural experiment station and State institutions, where certified teachers are employed under the supervision of and qualified by the State Department of Education, and other institutions maintained wholly or in part by the State;
  • Physicians, surgeons and dentists;
  • Assistant and Deputy Attorneys General and legal assistants appointed by the Attorney General;
  • One secretary and one confidential assistant to each department head, Commission, principal executive officer and commission.  Each certification and appointment hereunder shall be recorded in the minutes of the Commission;
  • Employees in the military or naval service of the State;
  • Student assistants;
  • Domestic employees in the Governor’s household; and
  • All other titles as provided by law or as the Commission may determine.

In addition, in State service, confidential assistants may be allocated to the unclassified service.

Appointees who serve for a fixed term or “at the pleasure of the appointing authority” are also allocated to the unclassified service. However, such employees, for example local building code officials, may receive statutory protection elsewhere.


Local Government Unclassified Service

 Employees serving in unclassified titles for local governmental bodies which have adopted the Civil Service System (such as counties, municipalities, boards and authorities) are not subject to the protections of the Civil Service Act unless otherwise specified.  The local unclassified service includes:

a.Elected officials;

b.One secretary and one confidential assistant to each mayor;

c.Members of Commissions and commissions authorized by law;

d.Heads of institutions;

e.Physicians, surgeons and dentists;

f.Attorneys of a county, municipality or school district operating under this title;

g.Teaching staff, as defined in N.J.S.18A:1-1, in the public schools and county superintendents and members and business managers of Commissions of education;

h.Principal executive officers;

i.One secretary, clerk or executive director to each department, Commission and commission authorized by law to make the appointment;

j.One secretary or clerk to each county constitutional officer, principal executive officer, and judge;

k.One deputy or first assistant to a principal executive officer who is authorized by statute to act for and in place of the principal executive officer;

l.No more than 12 county department heads and the heads of divisions within such departments; provided that the total number of unclassified positions created by the county administrative code pursuant to this subsection shall not exceed 20;

m.One secretary or confidential assistant to each unclassified department or division head established in subsection l.;

n.Employees of county park commissions in counties of the second class;

o.Directors of free public libraries in cities of the first class having a population of more than 300,000;

p.One secretary to the municipal council in cities of the first class having a population of less than 300,000;

q.One secretary and one confidential aide for each member of the Commission of freeholders other than the director, and one secretary and two confidential aides for the freeholder director, of any county of the second class with a population of at least 470,000 which has not adopted the provisions of the “Optional County Charter Law,” P.L.1972, c.154 (C.40:41A-1 et seq.) and one secretary or confidential aide for each member of the Commission of freeholders of any other county which has not adopted the provisions of the “Optional County Charter Law”;

r.In school districts organized pursuant to N.J.S.18A:17-1 et seq., the executive controller, public information officer and the executive directors of Commission affairs, personnel, budget, purchasing, physical facilities, data processing, financial affairs, and internal audit;

s.The executive director, assistant executive director, director of staff operations, director of administration, director of redevelopment and the urban initiatives coordinator of a local housing authority;

t.The sheriff’s investigators of any county appointed pursuant to P.L.1987, c.113 (C.40A:9-117a);

u.Any title as provided by statute or as the Commission may determine in accordance with criteria established by rule;

v.One confidential aide for each county clerk, in addition to the titles included under subsection j. of this section; and

w.Two deputy municipal clerks in cities of the first class having a population of not less than 240,000 persons or more than 250,000 persons according to the 2000 federal decennial census.

It is functions, rather than title, of “department head” which are dispositive.   No more than ten local department heads may be allocated to the unclassified service.


Allocation of Titles

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission assigns and reassigns titles.  However, the Commission cannot move a title from the classified to unclassified service without first holding a public hearing.


Desk Audits 

Employees or appointing authorities who believe that a title has been incorrectly allocated based on its duties or requirements may request that the Commission conduct a desk audit.  The Commission may also conduct a desk audit of its own accord.  Job descriptions and title codes can be reviewed through the Commission, and are generally available on its website.


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Our New Jersey employment attorneys represent local and state government employees in all employment law matters. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form to schedule an appointment with one of our New Jersey employment lawyers.  We can help.


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