Municipal employers, remember Civil Service Law when merging job functions.

Be cautious when merging job functions.

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Municipal employers, remember Civil Service Law when merging job functions.

By Admin |02-15-2017 03:52

On December 1, 2016, New York’s Third Department reminded of the importance of New York’s Civil Service Law - specific to situations where school districts or municipal employers consolidate job functions to save money. Thornton v. Saugerties Cent. School District, 43 N.Y.S.3d 173 (3d Dep’t 2016).

In Thornton, a five-year school district employee was responsible for overseeing the school district’s student and data management systems. She had no supervisory duties. The district contracted with its area BOCES for more cost-effective data management services, and in so doing her position was eliminated by board of education. The employee’s job duties were assumed by BOCES thereafter.

This employee requested, and the district denied, that she be transferred to BOCES pursuant to New York Civil Service Law. The employee commenced an Article 78 proceeding to challenge the district’s final determination after denying her request.

Pursuant to Civil Service Law § 70(2), “[u]pon the transfer of a function … from one department or agency of the state to another … provision shall be made for the transfer of necessary officers and employees who are substantially engaged in the performance of the function to be transferred.”

An employee is only “necessary” when the agency or department to which the employee’s function is being transferred does not have sufficient staff at the time to perform those additional duties being transferred.

The school district, to demonstrate that its former employee was not “necessary” as defined by the statute, provided an affidavit from BOCES stating the duties assumed from the former employee were handled exclusively by already-existing BOCES employees, and that BOCES made no new hires to assist it in performing these duties. The district superintendent also attested that no new employees were hired by the district to replace the former employee and that the consolidation was done primarily due to budgetary constraints. The Court was satisfied and found the former employee was not a “necessary” employee; affirming the denial of her motion for a trial.

Thornton demonstrates the sensitivity and awareness municipal employers must maintain when consolidating, downsizing, reorganizing, restructuring or cooperating to save costs on services. It also shines light on what could otherwise be problematic when employers mask wrongful terminations behind budget constraints. The outcome of this case may very well have been different had BOCES hired additional staff to handle these additional services or if the district restructured in-house and needed to hire part-time help to navigate those tasks of the former employee.

It is also important to note that, pursuant to the Civil Service Law, there are also mandated posting requirements and statutory appeals processes within which an employer and employee must comply.