The Constitutional and Statutory Foundations of New Jersey’s Civil Service System
New Jersey’s Civil Service governs the hiring, promotion, classification and discipline of employees of government the State of New Jersey, and employees of the majority of counties, municipalities and governmental boards and commissions which have chosen to be governed by Civil Service . The Civil Service System is governed by the New Jersey Constitution and New Jersey’s Civil Service Act and the regulations issued by New Jersey’s Civil Service Commission which implement the Civil Service Act.
New Jersey’s Civil Service System is based on a strong constitutional foundation. Article VII, section I of New Jersey’s Constitution of 1947 provides that:
Appointments and promotions in the Civil Service of the State, and of such political subdivisions as may be provided by law, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination, which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive; except that preference in appointments by reason of active service in any branch of the military or naval forces of the United States in time of war may be provided by law.
Thus, the 1947 New Jersey Constitutional Convention thus provides a constitutional requirement for the principal of merit based employment decisions upon which the Civil Service System is based.
The New Jersey Civil Service Act, Civil Service Commission, and Regulations
New Jersey’s Civil Service System is governed by the Civil Service Act, was codified in Title 11 of New Jersey Statutes. In 1986, Title 11A replaced the former Title 11 (in fact, the Civil Service Act takes up all of Title 11A). The Civil Service Act sets out the framework of New Jersey’s merit based system of government employment.
New Jersey’s Civil Service Act is also governed by Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code. The Civil Service Act provides for the establishment of the Civil Service Commission (previously called the Merit System Board), and for its adoption of these regulations.
The Public Policy Behind New Jersey’s Civil Service Act
The Civil Service Act explains the public policy behind the Civil Service System:
a. to select and advance employees on the basis of their relative knowledge, skills and abilities;
b. …to provide public officials with appropriate appointment, supervisory and other personnel authority to execute properly their constitutional and statutory responsibilities;
c. …to encourage and reward meritorious performance by employees in the public service and to retain and separate employees on the basis of the adequacy of their performance;
d. …to ensure equal employment opportunity at all levels of the public service; and
e. …to protect career public employees from political coercion and to ensure the recognition of such bargaining and other rights as are secured pursuant to other statutes and the collective negotiations law.
New Jersey’s Supreme Court explained the reasons behind the adoption of New Jersey’s Civil Service protections. In a state which had a long history of corruption, the purpose was to make sure that New Jersey’s people got the best government possible. In the 1963 case of Loboda v. Clark Township, the Court explained:
Primarily it was to remove employment in the classified service from political control, partisanship and personal favoritism, and to maintain stability and continuity in ordinary public employment. Therefore it behooves the judicial branch of the government to give the widest possible range to the application of the law…. Many decisions have recognized that the purpose of the Civil Service Law is to procure efficient public service and to secure tenure during good behavior for public officers and that the law should be given a broad construction to bring employees within its operation.
Applicability and Adoption of Civil Service
Title 11A, the Civil Service Act, and the Civil Service Commission’s regulations govern all State employees. Likewise, the Civil Service Act governs employees of “any political subdivision operating under Title 11A.” (“Political subdivisions” include counties, cities, towns, boroughs, boards and commissions.)
Thus, not all “political subdivisions” have adopted the Civil Service Act. However, twenty of New Jersey’s twenty one county governments and the majority of other local governments have. A list of the jurisdictions which have adopted the Civil Service Act can be found here. Political subdivisions can adopt to be governed by the Civil Service System by referendum.
The Takeaway: The Value of New Jersey’s Civil Service System
New Jersey’s state and local governments provide vital services for residents of the Garden State in everything from law enforcement to transportation to medical care. The breath of these services touches all of us in fundamental ways. It is therefore vital that the people providing these services are the best qualified for the job. In a state where governors, mayors, congressmen and assorted other elected officials have frequently faced criminal allegations, this is no small concern. While critics claim that the Civil Service System makes it too hard to hire good employees and too hard to fire bad ones, they ignore some basic realities. Without the merit based hiring, promotion and discipline provisions of the Civil Service System, hiring and promotion would be based on who you know – or who you paid – rather than merit. New Jersey is, after all, the state where “rice pudding” had to be paid to get and keep government jobs. Thus, the protections of the Civil Service System actually make the State and its local governments much more efficient and responsive to their constituents. It is therefore an indispensable good for New Jersey.
McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s employment attorneys represent New Jersey’s Civil Service employees challenging wrongful termination and discipline. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or email us to schedule and appointment. We can help.