State Moves Toward Job Performance-based Hiring

The General Assembly is rallying behind Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to overhaul how the state’s employees are hired and fired after months of wrangling over details.

The Senate voted 30-3 in favor of the reforms Thursday following a 74-19 vote in the House the day before.

“Soon we will have the ability to hire, promote and retain the best and brightest, finally giving Tennesseans the government they deserve,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement.

HB2384 – also called the Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act – would put more emphasis on the job performance of state employees, such as those who work at the DMV or the Department of Children Services. Job performance will be the primary factor in hiring and firing decisions rather than tenure.

Leadership of the Tennessee State Employees Association, the union for state workers, opposed the governor’s plan earlier this year, saying the changes would open up the door to political hiring.

They came to a consensus earlier this month, agreeing to reinsert tenure as a consideration when making employment decisions, although performance would be key. The governor is expected to sign the bill.

“This is going to do worlds of good as far as building confidence within state employees,” said Bob O’Connell, executive director of the TSEA, who added the union didn’t get everything it wanted, but enough to support the plan.

“There will be a stronger focus on their performance when it comes time to decide who to lay off, who gets merit pay, who doesn’t get merit pay. … We are OK that they’re going to redo the performance evaluation system and we’re going to be part of that.”

Here’s a breakdown of what the reforms would do:

  •  All state employees — including those recently disciplined, demoted or suspended — will see a 2.5 percent raise on July 1. Last year, Haslam handed workers a 1.6 percent raise, but only rewarded employees with a maximum of one disciplinary action against them.
  •  The Haslam administration will develop a new employee performance evaluation system over the next year to be used beginning in July 2013. The goal is to better measure employee performance given current employment decisions rely more on merit than tenure.
  •  In the event of a layoff, the first employees to go will be those with low job performance scores. Seniority, disciplinary actions and abilities will then be factored in.
  •  Open state jobs will no longer be filled by seniority-based reshuffling, otherwise known as bumping. Bumping allows one displaced worker to displace another with less seniority, which causes a ripple effect through state government. The legislation will require open jobs be filled based on merit, although the state will guarantee interviews to laid-off state workers.
  •  The state will slowly lower the amount of lead time they give employees when announcing layoffs. State workers will have 90 days’ notice of layoff until Oct. 1, when that time period will drop to 60 days. Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, workers will have 30 days’ notice.