What is Civil Service?

Department of Human Resources
Steven J. Rector, Commissioner



The civil service system began in the early 1880’s when Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The purpose was to bring an end to the spoils system and to stop the practice of granting jobs solely to political supporters. The NYS Constitution and NYS Civil Service Law states that public employees are to be hired on the basis of merit and fitness. The merit and fitness of an applicant is determined by their knowledge, skills, abilities and other considerations. Depending on how a position is classified and when practicable, a person may be required to take a standardized examination to illustrate that they meet the merit and fitness of a position.

Jurisdictional Classification

Civil Service Law is concerned with what is called the Classified Service. It is comprised of “all offices and positions not included in the unclassified service”. The Classified service is further broken down into 4 classes: competitive, non-competitive, labor and exempt. The jurisdictional class of each title is very important because it governs both the way the positions can be filled and what rights incumbent’s posses under Civil Service law and rules. All titles that are removed from the competitive class and placed into one of the other jurisdictional classes must appear as such in our Dutchess County Rules.

Competitive Class – As defined by Section 44 of Civil Service Law, this class includes all positions for which it is practicable to determine merit and fitness by competitive exam. All titles, when first created, automatically fall into this jurisdictional class. To remove a title from the competitive class, our office must propose specific reasons to the state civil service commission. These positions have the most requirements to fill, and the incumbents have the most rights in areas such as retention, discipline and layoff.

Non-competitive Class – Section 42 of Civil Service Law states that these are titles that do not fall under the specifics of labor or exempt jurisdictional classes, and which have been found by the state commission to be not practicable for testing by competitive exam. Unlike labor class positions, these positions generally have some type of minimum qualification, and the review of minimum qualifications is considered examination.

Labor Class – According to Section 43, these positions are comprised of unskilled laborers. As such, they do not have minimum qualifications and no exam is required.

Exempt Class – Section 41 of Civil Service Law specifies positions which fall into the exempt class as follows:

  • the deputies of principal executive officers authorized by law to act generally for and in place of their principals;
  • one secretary of each municipal board or commission authorized by law to appoint a secretary;
  • one clerk and one deputy clerk if authorized by law, of each court, and one clerk of each elective judicial officer, and also one deputy clerk, if authorized by law, of any justice of the supreme court;
  • all other subordinate offices or positions for the filling of which competitive or non-competitive examination may be found to be not practicable


Take note that most of these items specifically mention “authorized by law.” These positions do not have minimum qualifications, and employees essentially serve at will.

Unclassified Service

The unclassified service includes elective offices; offices filled by election or appointment of the legislature on joint ballot; legislative officers and employees; department heads; certain officers and employees appointed by the Governor; officers, members and employees of boards of elections; and, the largest group, teachers and supervisory personnel in the public schools, the State University and certain community colleges.

Go to top of page