Personnel Administration

Personnel administration in New York local governments is subject in many important respects to the State Civil Service Law. In general, the law makes several options available to local governments for civil service administration. Although the specific responsibilities of a municipal personnel agency may vary, a sound personnel program rests on clearly drawn local laws, rules and regulations which encompass such matters as recruitment, selection, and placement, performance appraisal; position classification and pay plans, fringe benefits, working conditions, separation, training and career development.

Personnel administration encompasses all of the activities concerned with the human resources of an organization and includes a series of functions which relate to its overall operation. These functions include position classification'` determination of salary scales, fringe benefits, recruitment and selection of employees, performance appraisal, training, establishment of policies and procedures for conduct and discipline, and the development of programs related to health, safety, affirmative action and retirement programs.

Numerous factors - economic and social resources, technological advances, intermunicipal relations, politics and political leadership, special interest groups such as employee unions, and concern for career services — greatly influence personnel programs.

Historical Development

To understand the goals and purposes of public personnel administration, it is helpful to trace its historic development and, in particular, to note the major role that New York State played in the civil service reform movement. Initially, the philosophy and practices of patronage almost universally governed personnel administration in the United States. Patronage involved giving government jobs to supporters of those who won elections and resulted in the famed and controversial spoils system. Jobs were filled with party workers and with friends and relatives of elected officials. During the nineteenth century the patronage system and its abuses produced increasing alarm. It was charged with lowering morale, encouraging disloyalty and dishonesty, obstructing reward for good work, and discouraging competent people from entering government service.

It is no coincidence that New York generated much of the early impetus for civil service reform, since the spoils system had become most pervasive in the Empire State." As one observer noted, “It was the politicians of New York who gave it its organized impulse. It was in response to Henry Clay’s taunt at the New York system that a New York senator made the famous defense that to the victor belong the spoils of his enemy.” [1] It is not surprising that civil service reformers were most active in New York State, where the problems were most acute. Organized in 1877, the New York Civil Service Reform Association stimulated the rapid development of similar associations in other states. This reform movement led to the enactment of the federal Pendleton Act in January 1883. This law required establishment of a bipartisan civil service commission to conduct competitive examinations and to assure the appointment and promotion of government employees based on merit. Later that year, New York State enacted its first civil service law.

New York State Civil Service Law

New York State has the oldest civil service system of any state in the nation. Beginning in 1883, as a reaction to the spoils system, it concentrated on the development of examinations and other recruitment devices. The state subsequently adopted a special classification system in order to determining titles and salaries. As state government assumed greater responsibilities and as the state’s work force grew, the civil service system was modified and refined by legislation and administrative action. It became a highly complex and sophisticated system, which is now administered by the State Department of Civil Service. Within the department, separate divisions concentrate on specific personnel functions, such as classification, examination and placement. New York State’s Civil Service Law also includes provisions for the administration of civil service at the local government level.

Forms of Local Civil Service Administration

The Civil Service Law specifies optional forms of civil service administration for the purpose of administering the law in the counties (including political subdivisions within counties), in the cities and in suburban towns with a population of more than 50,000. Villages have no authority to administer a separate civil service system, but must comply with state law and with locally adopted civil service rules and the regulations of the regional or county civil service commission or personnel officer.

Municipalities can select one of two major options for direct administration of civil service law - the civil service commission or the personnel officer. The commission consists of three persons with no more than two from the same political party. They are appointed either by the governing body or by the chief executive officer of the municipality. Their six-year terms of office are staggered, with one term expiring every two years.

Like the Civil Service Commission, the personnel officer is appointed by the governing body or chief executive for six years and the responsibilities of the office include those of the municipal civil service commission. In addition, the personnel officer often has non-civil service responsibilities of personnel management and human resources administration, such as labor relations, affirmative action and staff development activities. Other governments have developed a hybrid form of civil service/personnel administration. Typically, this joint system of administration consists of a part-time civil service commission and a personnel director. The civil service commission administers the Civil Service Law and promulgates local civil service rules and regulations, while the personnel director carries out the non-civil service functions.

In the event that a county or city chooses to not directly administer a separate civil service system, it may join with one or more other counties or cities, in the same or adjoining counties, to establish a regional civil service commission or a regional personnel officer position. This regional alternative for civil service administration may be established by written agreement approved by the governing bodies of each participating county and city. There are no regional operations in New York State at present.

Political subdivisions with populations of less than 5,000 fall into a special category. The State Civil Service Commission has standards for determining whether or not it is practical in such subdivisions to have civil service examinations for their employees.

Categories of Positions

Sections 35 and 40 of the Civil Service Law establish two major groups of municipal employee positions - the classified and unclassified services.

Positions in the unclassified service are defined by statute and include all elected officials, all officers and employees with duties and responsibilities directly related to either the legislative or elective functions, chief administrators (i.e., department heads) of government, and those individuals with instructional responsibilities within school districts, boards of cooperative educational services, county vocational education and extension boards, or the state university system.

Within the classified service there are four jurisdictional classifications of positions: competitive, exempt, noncompetitive and labor. All positions which are outside the competitive class must be specifically named by the civil service commission and approved by the State Civil Service Commission.

The basis for determining whether a position shall be in the competitive class is the practicality of ascertaining merit and fitness by competitive examination. This process may utilize any, or a combination, of several different tests: written, oral, performance, physical, and review of training and experience. If a position in the classified service is ruled to be outside the competitive class, it is placed in one of the other three classes in accordance with criteria found in the Civil Service Law.

Exempt class positions are designated primarily for positions of a policymaking or confidential nature for which a competitive or noncompetitive examination is impractical. The appointing authority selects employees in this class without regard to civil service rules and regulations governing eligible lists. The intention is that executive and judicial officers should have some latitude and flexibility in selecting, retaining and discharging their closest associates. Another important aspect of exempt positions is that there are no specified minimum qualifications as there are in competitive, non-competitive and labor class positions.

Noncompetitive class positions are positions for which there are established qualifications with respect to education and experience, but it is not practical to determine merit and fitness of applicants by competitive examination. The appointing authority can make appointments without regard to relative standing on eligible lists. There are no noncompetitive eligible lists The labor class includes all unskilled laborers, except those for which a competitive examination can be given. The local civil service commission or personnel officer may require applicants to take examinations for labor class positions if it is practical.

Local Civil Service Administration

Scope and Responsibility

The municipal civil service commission or personnel officer administers the Civil Service Law for classified municipal employees. Rules adopted by the commission or personnel officer are subject to approval by the State Civil Service Commission. The local commission or personnel officer must maintain extensive employee records for certifying payrolls, conducting examinations required by law and preparing appropriate lists of people eligible for appointment.

Regardless of the form chosen, the civil service commission or personnel officer of a county administers the Civil Service Law for the county and the political subdivisions within the county, including towns, villages and school districts, except for suburban towns with a population of 50, 000 or more and cities that choose to operate independently. In the case of a city or suburban town that opts to have its own civil service commission or personnel officer, the administration covers all officers and employees of the town or city, including the city school district. The jurisdiction of a regional commission or personnel officer includes all municipal employees within the region, who would otherwise be subject to the jurisdiction of the local civil service administration of the respective counties and cities within the region.

Changing the Form

The Civil Service law also makes provision for changing the system of administering civil service law in counties, cities and suburban towns. The governing body of a county, city or suburban town may elect to change from a civil service commission to the office of personnel officer or vice versa. They may choose to join with another municipality either within the county or on a regional basis to administer civil service jointly under either a commission or personnel officer. The law also establishes the effective dates of such changes, the duration of time before further changes may be made, and the authority of the governing body to revoke its action regarding changes. The advice and counsel of a municipal attorney may be helpful in interpreting and implementing the complicated procedures involved in changing the form of civil service administration.

The Functions of Personnel Administration

The specific responsibilities of a municipal personnel agency vary from one locality to another and from one level of government to another, depending upon size, jurisdiction and numbers of municipal employees. An effectively administered personnel program requires a strong legal base, a comprehensive and concise set of rules and regulations, and assistance and support from the municipality’s legislative body.

These components are necessary to achieve continuity of policy and practice and to allow managers to make informed decisions and solve personnel problems. New York State’s Civil Service Law includes the following elements in the personnel function: the principle of merit and fitness, rule-making authority, and a procedure for appeal. The administrative guidelines of such a program should emphasize stability of policy and flexibility of procedure. The following paragraphs briefly describe some of the major responsibilities of a personnel organization.

Classification and Salary Plans

Two of the most important functions of a personnel department are position classification and salary administration. To administer an organization effectively, management must have relevant facts about the specific jobs required to accomplish goals and objectives. Management must determine: first, what work must be done to attain the organization’s goals; second, what skills are necessary to accomplish this work; and third, how much of this work can be accomplished by one person. On the basis of this information the personnel department classifies positions, determines qualifications and salaries and recruits suitable people to do the work. The information also underlies all testing programs.

The personnel department usually administers a salary plan on the basis of position classification. Sometimes the personnel staff develops the salary plan, but it is common for the department to hire an outside consultant who specializes in the area of personnel administration. However, the final adoption of the plan, including salary and wage scales, is a legislative prerogative. Establishment of a salary policy occurs in two phases: the first determines the general level of wages in an organization; and the second devises a plan to provide consistent internal salary relations. Both social and economic factors affect wage levels in government, and the salary plan must reflect balances between these factors. Wage levels must take the following into consideration:

  • financial condition of the organization;

  • wage scale of competitors;

  • bargaining power of the employees;

  • cost of living;

  • federal and state regulations;

  • internal equity;

  • external competitiveness;

  • difficulty of work performed;

  • education/license required; and

  • any special situations, such as hazardous working conditions, shift pay, etc.

Recruitment, Selection and Placement

When the personnel department recruits people to perform jobs, it takes several actions that are part of a continuous process. These actions include recruitment, selection, placement and probation. The recruitment program must reach out and attract the best minds and skills without discrimination. The department may develop and implement affirmative action recruitment programs.

The department then screens applicants for jobs, most frequently by examination and/or interview, and develops lists of eligible candidates. It must plan selection programs carefully so that they include the following kinds of measurements about applicants: skills, knowledge, abilities, personality traits, interests, physical traits (where relevant) and medical conditions.

Working from the eligible list established by the selection process, the department then certifies to the appointing authority the top ranking candidates most qualified for the job. After an individual is appointed, most agencies require a probationary period and provide for periodic performance evaluation. Newly hired employees should participate in an effective orientation and training program during their probation.

The activities composing a municipal personnel program must take place within the limitations and requirements of the state’s Human Rights Law as it applies to public employment. This law recognizes as a civil right the opportunity to obtain employment, including public employment, without discrimination because of race, creed, sex, color, age, disability, marital status or national origin. The following practices are among those considered unlawful and discriminatory:

  • for an employer to refuse to hire or to discriminate against the employment of an individual or to discharge an employee because of the above factors;

  • for an employment agency to discriminate against any individual for these reasons in receiving, classifying, disposing of, or otherwise acting on applications for services;

  • for a labor organization to expel or deny membership to an individual for those reasons;

  • for an employer or employment agency to promote any advertisement or publication which expresses, directly or indirectly, any prohibited limitations, specifications or discriminations; and

  • for an employer, labor organization or employment agency to discharge or expel or otherwise discriminate against any person who has filed complaints pursuant to the Human Rights Law.

In addition, this law specifies that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer, labor organization or employment agency to control the selection of applicants for apprentice training programs. Numerous other discriminatory practices are listed, but those mentioned above are most specifically related to municipal personnel and training practices.

Performance Appraisal

Every supervisor in a municipal government should conduct a continuous evaluation of an employees’ development and whether they utilize their abilities most effectively. Periodic employee performance appraisal promotes the effective operation of an organization. A performance appraisal system:

  • informs employees of what is expected of them;

  • informs employees of how they are performing;

  • recognizes and rewards good work;

  • determines employee weaknesses and suggests alternatives for improvement;

  • identifies employee training needs;

  • maintains a continuing record of employee performance;

  • guides promotions, transfers and appropriate placement; and

  • checks the reasonableness of performance standards, the accuracy of job descriptions and classification, and the effectiveness of recruitment procedures.

There is no standard method for performance evaluation. Numerous techniques are utilized and each requires a different degree of detail. The organization’s objectives and management’s concerns usually determine the techniques chosen.

Fringe Benefits and Working Conditions

Personnel administration must also be concerned with working conditions and fringe benefits, as specified in labor agreements. Such items are over and above salaries and wages; they include vacation arrangements, sick leave, insurance policies, retirement plans, physical working facilities, hours of work, and employee safety and health programs.

Training and Development

Recruiting, selecting and placing employees are only the beginning of the personnel program. One of the most important aspects of personnel administration is employee training and development. Every employee must learn certain skills, new techniques, appropriate procedures, etc. Employees must be trained - they must be given the opportunity to learn how to effectively perform their present and future work. Training programs can:

  • orient employees to a new job;

  • assist employees to acquire specific skills or knowledge required to perform their jobs;

  • increase the scope of the employees’ experiences and prepare them for greater responsibilities;

  • encourage employees to take pride in their work;

  • promote concern among employees for their own personal and career development; and

  • increase worker safety.

The area of employee training and development has been drawing increased concern and interest over the past several years. Many municipalities are establishing separate training units to plan and administer total training programs. Training is integral to the total personnel process; it influences productivity, morale, motivation and realization of organization goals.


Another aspect of the personnel process is the development of appropriate procedures for separation. These include such activities as reduction in work force, disciplinary suspensions, terminations and separation during the probationary period. Such procedures as required by the Civil Service Law, the Human Rights Law and several court decisions specify due process must rights be granted to employees.

Civil Service Law specifies the procedures for the discipline and discharge of public employees who: hold competitive class appointments, are veterans or exempt volunteer fire fighters, or have completed five years of continuous service as non-competitive employees. However, local governments may negotiate alternative disciplinary procedures to replace or modify those procedures.

Similarly, Civil Service Law governs the separation due to a reduction in work force of competitive class employees and those who are veterans and volunteer firefighters. In addition, local governments may agree to establish specific layoff procedures for noncompetitive and labor class employees through collective bargaining.

Federal Acts Affecting Personnel Administration

The Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA (42 U.S.C. section 12101 et seq.), became law in 1990. It is intended to eliminate discrimination against people with qualifying disabilities in all areas of life including employment opportunities, access to governmental services, architectural barriers and telecommunications. Title I of the ADA, Employment, is of importance to local government personnel administration since it makes significant changes to all employment related activities, from recruitment and on the job performance, to attendance at work related social functions. Since its enactment, hundreds of cases concerning the ADA have been decided in the Federal Courts. These, along with implementing regulations promulgated by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and United States Attorney General, provide guidance for compliance with the Act.

Under Title I of the ADA, no employer, including local governments, may discriminate against an individual with a qualifying disability in the terms and conditions of employment. Under the ADA, an individual is disabled primarily if they have a physical or mental impairment (or are regarded as having such an impairment) which substantially limits one or more of the individual’s major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working and moving. The term “qualified individual with a disability” is defined in section 12111(8) of the Act as:

“…​an individual with a disability who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. For purposes of this title, consideration shall be given to the employer’s judgment as to what functions of a job are essential, and if an employer has prepared a written description before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job, this description shall be considered evidence of the essential functions of the job.”

Section 12111(9) provides with regard to the term “reasonable accommodation”:

The term “reasonable accommodation” may include:

  1. making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities; and

  2. job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to vacant positions, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

In essence, once a local government has made a determination that an applicant for employment or an existing employee is a qualified individual with a disability; the employer may be obligated, through an interactive process with the employee, to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation. While there are many rules and nuances to the ADA, some key points to remember are: the employer, not the employee, makes the final decision on what the reasonable accommodation will be; pre-job offer and post-job offer questions and medical examination requirements are dictated by the Act; and if the employee cannot perform the essential duties of the job, even with a reasonable accommodation, the employer need not hire them or may take appropriate steps to separate the employee from service.

Because of the ADA’s complexities, it is recommended that local governments confer with knowledgeable counsel, affirmative action officers, and other available sources when confronted with issues arising under the Act.

The Family Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, (29 U.S.C. section 2601 et seq.) became law in 1993. It is intended to balance the demands of the work place with the needs of families. By providing workers faced with family obligations or serious family or personal illness with reasonable amounts of leave, the FMLA encourages stability in the family and productivity in the workplace.

The FMLA gives eligible employees of covered employers the right to take unpaid leave, or paid leave charged to appropriate leave credits under certain circumstances, for a period of up to 12 work weeks in a 12 month period due to: 1) the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care; 2) the employee’s need to care for a family member (child, spouse or parent) with a serious health condition; or 3) the employee’s own serious health condition which makes the employee unable to do his or her job. Under certain circumstances, FMLA leave may be taken on an intermittent basis. Employees are also entitled to continuation of health and certain other insurances, provided the employee pays his or her share of the premiums during the period of leave.

The employer has a right of 30 days advance notice from the employee, where practicable. In addition, the employer may require the employee to submit certification from a health care provider to substantiate that the leave is due to the serious health condition of the employee or a member of the family. The employer may also require, as a condition of return to work, medical documentation from an employee absent due to personal illness.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act

In 1990, the Immigration and Naturalization Act (Title 8 of the United States Code) provides the foundation for immigration law. It was passed in 1952 and has been amended several times. Section 1324a of Title 8 imposes requirements on employers to attest their examination of certain documents produced by employees that verify employment authorization and identity.

State Assistance and Training

A number of state agencies and other organizations, offer assistance to local governments in specific areas of staff development or personnel program administration. Training and technical assistance provided by state agencies is intended primarily to improve the capability of local employees whose activities help meet program objectives of those agencies. Summarized below are some of the kinds of training and other assistance available to local governments.

Department of Civil Service

The Department of Civil Service is the primary source of technical assistance to local governments assisting with setting up and operating local personnel programs. Local officials can obtain a variety of specific administrative and operational assistance from the Municipal Services Division of the department. For instance, if a municipality does not have an appropriate eligible list for a position, the department can provide names from appropriate state eligible lists. The list may be limited to residents from the locality or civil division in which the appointments are to be made, and may be used until it runs out or is superseded by a list established by the municipality.

On request, the Department of Civil Service also provides on-site advice and technical assistance concerning the following:

  • the State Civil Service Law and municipal rules and regulations;

  • job classification systems, job standards and specifications;

  • the development of procedural and training manuals;

  • the establishment of salary plans and fringe benefits;

  • surveys of local civil service or personnel agencies;

  • training in municipal personnel practices;

  • setting up and conducting examination programs; and

  • minority group training and placement.

Other State Agencies

The following list indicates the scope and range of the type of local government training that is offered by other state agencies:

The Education Department provides training for local school superintendents and members of local boards of education.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) provides in-house training, invests in information management, and partners with universities and other state agencies and professional organizations. These initiatives are designed to help specialized staff, such as wastewater treatment plant operators and air pollution control engineers, meet professional requirements.

The Department of Health provides training to help specialized local government staff, including water treatment plant operators, meet certification requirements.

The Office of Real Property Tax Services provides training to help local assessment officials perform their functions and duties effectively and meet certification requirements.

The Office of the State Comptroller offers training for fiscal officers of local governments.

The Office of Mental Health offers program-related training to staffs of local mental health agencies.

The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities makes its own staff training programs available to appropriate local employees.

The Department of Labor makes available to appropriate local government employees, where possible, its in-service training programs on such matters as placement, supervision and unemployment insurance.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) makes appropriate training available for local social services program staff and others, including case workers, supervisors, day care workers, parent aides, foster parents and investigators.

The Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services offers training in such topics as counseling, program development and prevention to staffs of local agencies it funds and other appropriate agencies.

The Office of Fire Prevention and Control of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services offers training for local fire fighters about fire services and prevention and hazardous materials.

The State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs provides training for local government emergency management staff on such matters as emergency planning, communication, creative financing, decision making, hazardous materials and legal issues.

Department of State

The Department of State offers certain kinds of technical assistance and training to promote effective local government operations. The department makes available training in enforcement of the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code, State Energy Code, land use planning and regulation, management of community action programs, and in specific areas of municipal management. Technical assistance is also provided in the above areas, as well as in municipal law, intergovernmental cooperation, local government organization and operations, sources of financial assistance and local waterfront revitalization.

Other Organizations

Assistance with staff development and training is offered to local governments through a number of non-state organizations. Statewide, these include the municipal associations (NYS Association of Counties, NYS Conference of Mayors and Other Municipal Officials, Association of Towns of the State of New York and the NYS School Boards Association), their affiliate groups, and such specialized organizations as the New York Planning Federation. These organizations often provide training at their annual meetings or through special seminars, and they frequently accommodate training sessions of state agencies and other organizations at their meetings.


Effective personnel administration at the local government level requires:

  • compliance with New York State Civil Service and Human Rights laws, Federal laws and local civil service rules and regulations;

  • formalized personnel policy;

  • strong but flexible legal framework;

  • organized activities;

  • clearly defined goals and objectives;

  • concern for human factors as well as for operational results;

  • positive personnel activities to stimulate and motivate employees;

  • concern for employee development; and

  • awareness of the need for, and benefits of, training and education.

1. Jerome Lefkowitz, The Legal Basis of Employee Relations of New York State Employees (Association of Labor Mediation Agencies, 1973), p. 2.

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