Government Employees' Rights


The rights of government workers are primarily focused on their employment protection and hiring status. These rights start the day the employee is hired and expand further as the employee transitions from a probationary to a permanent employee. These rights cover examination and competition candidacy, evaluation, discipline and due process, and retirement. Most of these categories are incorporated within the concept of civil service.

Civil Service Defined

The concept of civil service, whether at the federal or local level, is generally the same: government operations need to function at medium and lower levels in an apolitical manner. While top leadership is accepted to be political appointments, the daily program levels and staff should be free of political conflicts. The way to ensure this is to use an employment system that requires more than just an at-will employment environment. Civil service thus incorporates a set of employment rules that require employees be protected from undue political pressure. The rules govern recruitment, selection, hiring, progressive discipline and ultimately the termination process.

Civil Service Involvement

Civil service rights for an employee begin at recruitment rather than hiring. The major right of civil service is permanency of employment for an employee. Once an employee passes the initial probationary period of performance (usually six months to a year in the job), they then earn permanent employment status. At such time, unlike at-will employment, the permanent employee cannot be terminated without sufficient and documented cause in most circumstances (legislative removal of program funding can be an exception, for example). In practice, discipline proceedings to termination usually take 6 months to a year to put into effect (except for extreme cases such as gross theft, felony arrest or violence in the workplace).

Discipline and Due Process

The second major employee right is guaranteed due process.Discipline procedures for government employees are extensive. For example, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules permit employees to have a full hearing to assert violations of their civil rights protected under federal or state rules (i.e., no discrimination based on race, religion, physical limitations, etc.). Private sector employees do not necessarily have this forum and have to rely on private legal representation.

Employees’ due process rights are frequently codified sets of rules with regards to how discipline has to be communicated and what the appeal processes are. An individual government manager cannot act arbitrarily with regards to discipline under the civil service system. Instead, multiple levels of review are required and the employee has a right to argue his case, including discussing evidentiary material and calling forth witnesses.


Many government levels have existing retirement programs that authorize a vested right of benefit in government employees after a certain number of years of employment. Government agencies are only recently beginning to look at self-directed retirement programs such as 401Ks. Most are still under old, traditionally defined benefit models, better known as “pension” programs. Once vested, an employee continues to increase the amount of pension paid in retirement with years of active service and level of salary paid while employed. Earned time in and value cannot be eliminated under most systems and become the property of the employee (even so much as to be included in assets distributed during an employee’s personal divorce proceeding).


Government employees do enjoy specific rights in their employment not otherwise available in private jobs, and this is mainly due to protecting the daily functions of government from too much political influence. They are also in place to make sure employees are treated fairly in all employment matters and that documentation always exists for punitive action taken.

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