Working Test Periods (New Jersey Civil Service Probation)
New Jersey civil service law confers significant protections on government employees in civil service jurisdictions. However, employees must complete a working test period before they are eligible to receive by these protections.
Working Test Periods
A “working test period” is the New Jersey civil service system’s form of probation, and in fact that is what it used to be called. During the working test period, employees perform the regular duties of a position as if they were permanent employees. Working test periods give government employers the ability to evaluate newly hired or promoted employees to determine whether they can perform their new duties. Working test periods are part of the civil service examination process used in determining whether employees should be permanently appointed to their new positions. Employees must already have the qualifications for the position prior to appointment. The employee must demonstrate competence in the position. An employee’s failure to do so is justification for the employer not to retain the employee in that position. An employee serving a working test period is not eligible to take a promotional examination from that title.
Appointments Subject to Working Test Periods
In general, all career service (or classified) appointments are subject to the working test period requirement. Several exceptions apply, particularly where employees have already demonstrated competence in the same or a similar position. Thus, employees hired from reemployment lists are generally exempt, as are employees appointed to comparable or lower related positions as an alternative to layoff. An employee who is appointed to a position already she previously held permanently may be exempt if she held it during her current continuous permanent service. Some lateral title changes are also exempt.
Working test periods in State service are four months, although they may be extended by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission to six months, and three months for local government employees. Working test periods for entry level law enforcement officers, correction officers and firefighters are twelve months. After an employee successfully completes her working test period, her date of appointment will be when she was appointed from the eligible list.
An employee must receive progress reports during the working test period so that the employee has notice if her performance is unsatisfactory. An interim progress report must be given after two months and a final report at the conclusion of the working test period; in State service the interim report must be given after five months if the working test period has been extended. Progress reports for entry level law enforcement, correction officer and firefighter titles must be given at the end of six months and a final report at the conclusion of the working test period. Employees must be furnished with copies of their progress reports.
Completion of the Working Test Period
Employees who do not successfully complete their working test period may be terminated or returned to their pre-promotion position. Employees who are laid off during their working test periods will be placed back on the civil service eligible list from which they were appointed. An employer must give an employee notice of termination or return to her former permanent position. The notice must be served no more than five days before or after the end of the working test period or there will be a presumption that the employee has become permanent.
An employee may appeal termination or return to prior position after a working test period in writing to the Civil Service Commission within 20 days after the notice. The notice must advise the employee of this right or she may appeal within a “reasonable time. The burden of proof is on the employee to prove that the employer took the action in bad faith. Appeals from the Civil Service Commission are made to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. If the employee is successful and bad faith is found, she will receive a new working test period, which may be shortened.
Our New Jersey employment law attorneys represent government employees in all aspects of employment law, including civil service appeals. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation with on our of New Jersey civil service attorneys. We can help.