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October 10, 2011

Ordering a hiring freeze


Ordering a hiring freeze
Caputo v Halpin, 160 A.D.2d 938; Motion for leave to appeal dismissed, 76 N.Y.2d 773

From time to time a jurisdiction’s chief executive officer places a “hiring freeze” on appointments to vacant positions in departments and agencies in the jurisdiction. Does he or she need an expressed power to do so?

The Caputo decision involved this question: the truncating of the power of an appointing officer to fill vacant positions in his or her department after the Suffolk County Executive issued an order freezing the filling of vacant county positions in order to avoid an expected budget deficit.

The Appellate Division ruled that:

Within this context, it was well within the power of the Soffolk County Executive to delay the approval of the appointments to the vacancies in the anticipation that there will be a budget deficit and that not filling these vacancies for which funds had been appropriated would be a convenient source to realize savings. The statutory provisions dealing with the avoidance of a deficit make the County Executive, as chief budget officer, the overseer of expenditure of budgeted funds.

In affirming the Appellate Division's ruling, the Court of Appeals referred to its decision in Slominski v Rutkowski, 62 NY2d 781, a case involving a similar challenge to the Erie County Executive ordering a hiring freeze.

The Court said that despite the lack of an express provision granting the Suffolk County Executive authority to order temporary hiring freezes, a statutory power, by contrast, enjoyed by the Erie County chief executive officer, the rationale in Slominski was applicable in the Suffolk County situation. The Court of Appeals held that "the very broad powers granted the Suffolk County Executive are sufficiently similar to those granted the Erie County Executive [considered] in Slominski to render that case essentially indistinguishable."

Other problems are certain to arise in the context of such an anticipated budget deficit. Among them are the following:

1. Compensation: In Abberbock v Nassau County, a State Supreme Court judge decided that the freeze imposed on expected salary increases, as well as the reduction of salaries, of employees designated managerial or confidential [M/C] in the context of a fiscal crisis "cannot be said ... represents an unreasonable course of conduct or that it is unrelated to an active and manifest evil" insofar as employees designated managerial or confidential were concerned. The Appellate Division agreed.

2. Eligible lists: When deciding Lopez v Barrios-Paoli, the Supreme Court, New York County, considered a number of issues that frequently result when there is a hiring freeze, including the "backing up" of eligible lists. Here the court decided that New York City’s personnel director's extension of earlier lists after a subsequent list had been established, thereby requiring the earlier lists to be certified first for appointment to vacancies, was a discretionary act pursuant to Section 56.1 of the Civil Service Law. Section 56.1 permits the extension of any eligible list in the event of a restriction against the filling of vacancies.

3. Leave from a "hold" position: The status of an individual's leave from his or her "hold item" may lead to difficulties, as the decision by the Appellate Divisions in Dworkin v Dept of Environmental Conservation demonstrates. Such employees may erroneously believe that they are protected in the event of termination because a budget problem because they think that they have a "hold item." As the Dworkin decision demonstrates, sometimes such a belief that they are protected by having a "hold position" is illusory!

In addition, the termination of temporary and provisional employees could result in litigation while the layoff of persons holding a permanent appointment pursuant to Section 80 or 80-a of the Civil Service Law creates significant technical difficulties as well as personal problems for the individuals affected. Also, in some instances provisions in collective bargaining agreements may set out procedural elements that must be honored before a layoff may be instituted by the appointing authority.

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The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees in New York State. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - Determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html

Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - Addresses retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual -Focusing on relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.