The bedrock principle of New Jersey Civil Service law is that merit and fitness should be the only factor considered in employment decisions, and discrimination, nepotism, cronyism, politics and bribery should be eliminated in public sector employment. The gateway to this system is the New Jersey Civil Service examination process, which ensures that hiring and promotion are based on merit, not other impermissible considerations. Indeed, the New Jersey Constitution requires that whenever possible, merit and fitness for hiring and promotions be determined by examination. The New Jersey Civil Service Act and Regulations implement this constitutional principle. Therefore, the principal means for determining merit and fitness for hiring and promotion of classified, career, permanent civil service employees is the New Jersey Civil Service examination process, which is administered by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
Obviously, then, civil service examinations are extremely important to applicants for hiring and promotion. But the human condition is that mistakes occur, and the New Jersey Civil Service system is administered by humans, and so mistakes are made. Therefore there is a process for appeals. Our New Jersey civil service attorneys represent state and local government employees in all aspects of New Jersey employment law, including civil service appeals.
Below is an overview of the New Jersey Civil Service examination system, and how candidates for hiring or promotion can appeal when a mistake is made.
Types of Examinations
The Commission develops and announces examinations. Examinations include written tests; performance evaluation; physical performance tests; oral tests; assessment exercises; and evaluation of education, training and experience, or other reasonably appropriate means as the Commission may employ. Since the goal is objectivity, the written test is the most common. Oral examinations are not per se invalid, but safeguards must be implemented to minimize subjectivity. In addition to knowledge and skills necessary for a particular job, general competence and intelligence are also proper topics for examination.
Promotional examinations are the preferred method of selection for the eligible list. However, for entry level jobs, or when there are not enough interested and qualified current employees (there must be at least three qualified and interested candidates), open competitive examinations may be used.
The Commission will announce examinations for open competitive examinations on its website, or by other appropriate means to obtain a sufficient number qualified candidates. Additionally, notices and applications are provided to eligible employees by the employer (also known as the appointing authority). The employer must post notices.
Before the announced closing date, the applicant must meet the requirements in the examination announcement. The applicant must also file an application before the date specified in the announcement. Applicants for municipal law enforcement or firefighter positions must be under the age of 35 as of the closing date, although certain exceptions for former officers and veterans may apply.
Open competitive examinations are generally open to anyone who meets the announced requirements. Promotional examinations are open to permanent career service employees who meet the prescribed eligibility requirements. They are generally open to the next lower title, but if there are not at least three qualified and interested candidates for each vacancy to be filled, then the eligibility may be expanded to other, defined classes of employees.
Candidates must be on time. Candidates will be admitted to written examinations only 15 minutes after the designated start time, and to oral examinations or performance examinations only 30 minutes after the start time, as long as the last scheduled candidate has not started. Candidates admitted late receive the full time.
Make-up examinations may be given under limited circumstances. A candidate must sign a statement that she has no knowledge of the examination content. In general, make-up examinations may be authorized only for:
- Employer or Commission error
- Serious illness or disability with a doctor’s certificate
- Death or serious illness in the candidate’s immediate family, with documentation
- Natural disaster
- Military duty
- Distant vacation or travel plans which cannot be reasonably changed, and
- Other valid reasons.
Candidate must request a make-up examination in writing within five days after the examination date, or within five days of the notice if the reason was known then.
Ties in final earned ratings will not be broken.
The following are prohibited:
- Possession of questions or materials not permissibly available to all applicants
- Recording devices
- Cell phones
- Unauthorized persons
- Possessing information about applicants by unauthorized persons until the examination has been administered and an eligible list has been issued
- Impersonating an applicant
- Helping or attempting to help anyone else
- Using or attempting to use any unpermitted information, aids, or other assistance
- Copying or attempting to copy from someone else’s work
- Recording any question or answer
- Removing any question or answer sheet, notes, scrap paper, or anything related to an examination’s content
Anyone engaging in a prohibited action is disqualified.
Applicants may be disqualified if they:
- Lack the requirements
- Are physically or psychologically unfit
- Were fired from a government job
- Made a false statement
- Have an adverse prior employment history (although employers may waive this)
- Fail to timely pay the required processing fee
Examination Process Appeals
Applicants may appeal adverse actions relating to the examination and appointment process to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Adverse actions include rejection of an application, failure of an examination and removal from an eligible list.
Among other items which applicants may appeal are:
- Alleged failure to meet the job requirements
- Examination content
- disqualification for medical or psychological reasons
- Claimed ineligibility
- Disqualification based on employment history
- Examination procedures
- Termination from public employment without a hearing
- Alleged lies or deception in the selection or appointment process
- List extensions or revivals
- Failure to timely apply
- Failure to provide required documentation
- Denial of veterans preference
- Other sufficient cause
Appeals must be in writing. The burden of proof in examination appeals is on the appellant, except for medical or psychological disqualification appeals where it is on the employer. An appeal will normally not affect the promulgation of a list. An applicant who has filed an appeal of disqualification may sometimes be admitted to the exam, although her results will not be processed until the appeal is resolved. The deadlines for filing are intensely tight – some must be filed at the site; some within a few days – our advice is to file appeals immediately. You can file and then contact an attorney to represent you on the appeal, or contact an attorney as soon as possible to file the appeal (we are always happy to help).
Review and Appeal of Examination Items, Scoring and Administration.
Candidates have a limited right to review their questions and answers in accordance with Commission security procedures. The applicant must request review within five days. Candidates who have done so may appeal within five to twenty days after review, depending on the type of test. All other candidates may file an appeal within five to twenty days from the date the examination, depending on the type of examination. Because these timelines are so tight, our recommendation is to make the request and/or file the appeal immediately after the examination.
Our New Jersey employment attorneys represent government employees, including those who are and are not protected by New Jersey Civil Service law, in all aspects of employment law, including challenging employer actions, and hiring and promotion appeals from the employer level through the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, through the courts of appeal. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page. We can help.