On August 21, 2013, Governor McCrory signed into law House Bill 834 to promote efficiency in state government by changing how public employees are managed, hired and fired. The new law represents an overhaul of the State Personnel Act, which has not been updated in decades and applies to the state’s 120,000 taxpayer-funded public employees.
The changes to the Personnel Act will add 500 more positions to the list of 1,000 positions already exempted from certain provisions of the personnel act, such as the right to contest termination through a formal grievance process and protection from arbitrary firings. Some of these positions will also be subject to fewer rules in the hiring process. Exempt positions fall into one of two categories, either policy-making or managerial. These changes will provide cabinet secretaries with the flexibility to respond to business and organizational needs while reducing bureaucracy and red tape.
Any time a state employee is demoted, suspended or fired, it must be for just cause — such as a policy violation or performance issue. And the burden of proof warranting the personnel action lies with the state. Employees can appeal unfavorable personnel actions through arbitration in the Office of Administrative Hearings and even take the matter all the way to Superior Court. This can be a complicated and costly process that can take months. This modernization gives managers recourse to mediation and other methods to find an amicable up-front resolution to an employee grievance process that can average 450 days — or, as in one case, more than 1,000 days of bureaucratic wrangling to reach a settlement.
“The concept is that this is the governor’s opportunity to see if the people who are in these positions are the kind of people who will help get his initiatives going – or if he needs to get someone else,” said Drake Maynard, a human resources consultant who retired from the Office of State Personnel (now the Office of State Human Resources) in 2010. For these exempt positions, employees are necessarily political, in accordance with state law, since loyalty to the governor is “reasonably necessary” for the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was the State Personnel Act revised?
The State Personnel Act has not been revised in any significant way in 60 years. We are using yesterday’s laws to administer today’s human resource policies. Governor McCrory gave the Office of State Personnel (now Office of State Human Resources) a charge to attract, reward, develop, motivate and retain talent to strengthen the state operations and help North Carolina fulfill its potential. As a step in the process of developing “Good HR”, HB834 will modernize human resources, create efficiencies and create an environment where employees can be successful.
House Bill 834 is about state employees and meeting their needs, while balancing those needs with the needs of the state. HB 834 is about reforming human resources management, aligning HR processes with business needs, and making procedures and processes consistent across the state, so that state employees are treated the same no matter where they work.
What are some of the provisions of HB 834 that meet the needs of employees?
- Provides 12 holidays for state employees each year. Previously, the number of holidays fluctuated between 11 and 12 based upon what day of the week Christmas Day fell on. HB834 provides three holidays each Christmas.
- Aligns the probationary period and career status to two years. Previously, the probationary period varied from agency to agency (from three to nine months) and there was an undefined period of time between the probationary period and career status. HB834 aligns the probationary period and career status to two years.
- Reinstates the performance management process and makes it consistent across agencies. The process is simplified and employees and managers will have clearer, more concise communication. The new system will ensure that employees are evaluated in the same way no matter where they work.
- Streamlines and shortens the grievance process, allowing employee grievances to be resolved much more quickly. The emphasis is on resolving employee grievances more quickly on the front end so that employees are not left hanging for months with no resolution.
How does HB 834 affect the employee grievance process?
Currently, there is no standard grievance policy across the state. The state allows an agency to adopt either the Employee Mediation and Grievance Policy or the Employee Appeals and Grievance policy. Over time agencies have individualized their grievance policies, creating confusion for employees, managers, and Office of Administrative Hearings. HB 834 provides a standard, uniform grievance policy that provides procedural consistency, allows grievances to be addressed at the lowest level and utilizes mediation as the first step of the process. The revisions make the policy clearer, cleaner and more understandable, will allow employee grievances to be addressed much more quickly and will ensure that no employee is dis- advantaged.
What is the RTR Program?
The RTR Program, Reorganization through Reduction, is a temporary program designed to minimize the need for involuntary reductions-in-force. The program, for cabinet agencies and departments, allows agencies to restructure their organizations based upon their business needs. It permits employees to volunteer to leave when the agency/department is restructuring. The employee will receive a severance package. The deadline for the program is June 30, 2014.
Why was the Performance Management Process included in the legislation?
The performance management process was reinstated in HB 834 so that employees and managers will have clear, understandable communication about job performance expectations. The new process, which will be uniform, simplified and concise, will ensure that employees are evaluated in the same way no matter where they work and will ensure that no employee is dis-advantaged.
What happens if my position is designated as exempt and I am removed from that position?
If an employee is notified that their position has been designated as exempt managerial or exempt policymaking and the employee is removed from the position for a reason other than just cause, there are three options:
- If an employee was hired on or after June 30, 2013, the employee has no rights to re-employment or re-assignment.
- If an employee who was hired before June 30, 2013 has achieved career status but has less than 10 years of cumulative service, the employee has a one-time priority for one year to a position for which they are qualified.
- If an employee who was hired before June 30, 2013 has 10 years or more of cumulative service, including the immediately preceding 12 months, in a subject position, the employee shall be reassigned to a subject position.
“Frequently Asked Questions” provided courtesy of the Office of State Human Resources