When you are in the job market you may periodically hear the term civil service protection. And like so many other things, it more than likely was not explained to you. Basically, civil service means you get due-process. At will employees can be fired whenever their boss chooses to do so. There has to be a valid reason for a civil service employee to be fired.
State and Federal government jobs are civil service protected but lower levels of government jobs can be also. You can have civil servants in county and municipal positions. These lower entities have to choose to become civil service. They have to set up rules and a civil service commission. Don’t automatically assume that a government job at one of these levels is civil service protected. Contact their Human Resources department to find out.
Why would employees in government need this kind of protection?
Employees in government can be in the position of having their bosses change fairly often. Their boss may lose his election or if it is an appointed position their boss could be terminated by the entity that hired him. Civil service protection keeps the new boss who is coming in from firing everyone and giving well-paid positions to the daughter of his best friend, to donors, to his brother-in-law or whoever else he may want to do a favor for. It keeps the experienced people in their positions so that the jobs can continue to be done rather than allow those people to be replaced with people who don’t know anything but have a connection with the new boss.
Civil service is also particularly beneficial for minorities. No one can come in and fire you because you are black, Hispanic, gay, a woman, or for any other bias they may have. This is huge for minorities who can face a tremendous amount of discrimination in the private sector. But you don’t have to be a minority to benefit from it. In the private sector people have been fired for all kinds of reasons such as being over-weight, not being pretty enough, turning the boss down when he asked you out and so on. For a lot of people there is a comfort level in having a civil service protected job. It takes away a lot of the uncertainty in life when you know there is a non-partisan commission who will look at what was done to you to decide if it was fair or not rather than being at the mercy of a vicious, vindictive boss.
People who are pro-business will tell you that civil service is a bad thing. They will tell you that it forces the government to keep people who are poor workers because it is so hard to fire them. The whole idea is that it is harder to fire someone but there has always been the ability to fire a person with just cause. And isn’t that what it should all be about? Having just cause? A person should not lose their job on the whim of another person. There should be valid, articulable (capable of being expressed, explained, or justified) reasons to take a step that so drastically affects a person’s life.
That having been said, are there times that civil service can protect someone who should be fired? Yes. Anything can be abused. Some people will learn to play the system right up to its boundaries. It can be frustrating for those watching, waiting for action to be taken against that problem person but the rules apply to everyone. Eventually the problem employee will mess up and cross the line enough for action to be taken but it can be a waiting game.