About State Personnel

A Brief History

The merit system owes its start in Alabama to a determined effort to generally improve administrative efficiency in state government. Enactment of a merit system law was one of a number of recommendations for organizational and administrative improvement that Governor Frank Dixon made to the 1939 State Legislature. While it did not overlook the problems of the spoils system, his message on the subject was essentially an eloquent argument for the merit system as a factor in governmental efficiency. Quoting from Governor Dixon's address:

"Under our present system, the chief duty of the Governor of Alabama is running an employment agency. Many thousands of applications are on file for places; each applicant has a right to come and present his claim in person, and it is humanly impossible for the Governor to act for the best interest of the State in patronage matters, even assuming that he spends his entire time attending to that."

In this same message, delivered on the third day of the 1939 Legislature, the Governor called attention to the inefficiency resulting from numerous independent boards, bureaus, and governmental agencies, and recommended "certain administrative changes." His recommendations spelled out plans for the consolidation of related functions into larger departments and placing these departments under single department directors, rather than commissions and boards. On this same day, bills were introduced to create six reorganized departments and to establish the merit system. All were enacted. The six departments were: Revenue, Highway, Finance, Corrections, Pardons and Paroles, and Personnel.

The Basic Law

The new merit system law created a Personnel Department to be administered by a Personnel Director who answered to an independent board. The Board originally consisted of three members, appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate for staggered six-year terms. The terms overlapped so that one expired every two years. In 1983, the legislature restructured the Board increasing its members to five, each serving staggered six-year terms. Two members are now appointed by the Governor, one by the Lieutenant Governor, one by the Speaker of the House, and one an elected classified state employee, i.e., an employee subject to all merit system rules and regulations. The need for Senate confirmation of appointments was eliminated. By law the Board is required to meet once each month. Its principal functions are to:

  • adopt and amend rules and regulations;
  • adopt and modify classification and pay plans;
  • hear the appeals of employees who have been dismissed;
  • represent the taxpayers' interest in the improvement of personnel management in the state;
  • advise and assist the Personnel Director

While the law arranges for independence and continuity of the system from one administration to the next, the Governor is assured input in matters of fundamental importance. His approval is required for Board rules to become effective. The pay plan and changes to it adopted by the Board must be submitted to the Governor, who may approve, change, or disapprove them.

Department Organization

The Personnel Department is sub-divided into several statutory and service divisions represented by the links below. To learn more about each of these divisions click the corresponding link.

Classification and Pay Division

Structure

Maintenance of the State's classification plan and pay plan is among the various statutory responsibilities prescribed to the State Personnel Director by the Code of Alabama. State law instructs the Personnel Director to present to the Personnel Board recommendations of requested amendments to these plans. The Classification & Pay Division helps in this effort by conducting research and studies on each requested change. In addition, monitoring the effectiveness of the current plan is also a function.

This Division is headed by the Classification Manager reporting directly to the Personnel Director and consists of several professional analysts, personnel assistants, and support staff.

Classification Plan Maintenance

The classification plan contains groups or classes of positions. Positions within a classification have similar duties, responsibilities, knowledge, skills, abilities, and minimum education and experience requirements. Such a classification system provides an accurate description of all classifications within state government, and groups jobs so they can be treated alike for purposes of recruitment, examination, and compensation.

Our classification structure is made up of approximately 1300 job classes. Requests for changes to the plan are received from agencies. Changes may be in the form of revisions to existing class specifications, establishment of new classes, and/or the abolition of unneeded classes. Upon receipt of a departmental request, the assigned analyst interviews agency managers and/or job incumbents. Comparative studies of existing classifications are made. Surveys of state and local jurisdictions and Alabama private industry are conducted. The analyst's report and recommendation are submitted to the Manager for review. After a request and recommendation are reviewed, finalized, and approved by the Director, they are presented to the Personnel Board for consideration. If approved, the actions are forwarded to the Governor for review and approval.

Pay Plan Maintenance

Each job class is assigned to one of the salary ranges in the state pay plan. Except for lower levels and expanded ranges in the plan, ranges consist of eighteen steps. Each range consists of an established minimum and maximum with pay steps which are uniformly two & one-half percent apart. The pay system is designed to link salary progress to performance. Under Board Rules, an employee must have a performance appraisal of "Meets Standards" in order to receive a merit increase of one step. An appraisal of "Exceeds Standards" equates to a two-step increase while a rating of "Consistently Exceeds Standards" may be rewarded with either a three or four step salary advance. Since adoption of this plan each Governor has asked agencies to limit possible salary advances to two steps rather than the three or four steps which Board Rules provide. An employee is typically hired into the classified service at the first step of the job's salary range. Then, he/she may secure salary advances in a variety of ways. At the conclusion of a probationary period an employee whose work "Meets Standards" or above may receive an increase of two steps when he/she is given permanent status. (2) This establishes an anniversary date and thereafter he/she may advance in accordance with his/her performance appraisal rating until reaching the maximum of the range. (3) He/she may also receive an increase as a result of a general, across-the-board adjustment of all ranges by the State Legislature. The last such general increase was three percent (3%) effective September 2002. (4) Additionally, employees are eligible for a raise of up to two steps when promoted. (5) Board Rules also provide that an employee may be recommended for an "Exceptional Pay Increase" based on extraordinary performance or some other compelling circumstances. "Special Merit Raises" of this type can only be approved by the State Personnel Board.

Position Control Activities

As a part of the ongoing effort to maintain accurate and current information on jobs, Position Classification Questionnaires (PCQ's or Form 40's) are collected for positions in the classified service. A Form 40 is to be completed by the employee in the position. The supervisor then reviews the form for content and makes additional comments when necessary. A Form 40 should be kept current for each classified position in government.

Additional Responsibilities

This Division provides advice and technical assistance to agencies concerning classification and compensation policies and procedures. Other functions of the Division include the review of various recommendations for personnel actions concerning transfers, pay changes, overtime, etc. In the event of a layoff, Division staff reviews, modifies, and approves proposed layoff plans. In this review process, all actions are checked for compliance with the Rules of the State Personnel Board including the calculation of individual employee’s retention scores. It is important to note that in the event of a layoff, employees are given scores based on performance and seniority in the class and department affected by the layoff.

Conclusion

The overall responsibility of the Classification and Pay Division is to assist the Director and the Board members in ensuring that the pay plan is competitive and the classification plan is equitable. These goals are two cornerstones of the state's personnel system because they are critical to the attraction and retention of the best available applicants to fill state job vacancies. The proper description and classification of jobs and the establishment of general qualifications is the first step in the overall employment process. Before the Examination Division can construct a valid selection device for screening job applicants, the "job" itself must be defined. Before "the best qualified, available people" can be recruited to apply for the job, the pay must be competitive; otherwise, the state becomes the employer of last resort -- unable to attract those with multiple employment options. Remember, registers can be no better than the people who apply. Selection devices are to surface the best of those who apply. The key phrase is "of those who apply." Thus, the classification and pay process flows into the examination process and affects greatly the quality of registers as perceived by hiring managers.

Examination Division

Structure

The Merit System is based on the concept that public employment should be open to all people on an equal opportunity basis. Competition based on qualifications, ability, and performance determines initial appointment. Subsequent actions, such as promotion, retention, and pay progression are based on job performance. The Examinations Division is charged with the responsibility to test and rank eligible applicants, i.e., to surface the best qualified, available applicants to fill state job vacancies from those who apply. The Manager of this Division reports directly to the Personnel Director. The Division consists of professional analysts, personnel assistants, and support staff.

Job Announcements

As mentioned earlier a document called a "specification" provides a general description of each type of job. The specification is used as a framework from which the job announcement is constructed. When an agency or department has a job vacancy that needs to be filled and an adequate employment register of eligible applicants does not exist, a request is submitted in letter form to the State Personnel Director asking for the administration of the examination. The first step of that process is the creation of the job announcement. Analysts perform an analysis of the job. The job analysis study will enable the analysts to review the essential functions and duties of the job, and to determine what knowledge, skills, and abilities are necessary for the individual to be able to perform these essential functions and duties. A major purpose of the job analysis function is to satisfy existing legal requirements concerning selection practices. The job analysis must be performed according to established criteria before the announcement can be published.

Tests

In State Personnel, when the term "test" is used, it is actually referring to any objective method or device used to evaluate and rank job applicants for further employment screening. A variety of methods are used by the State Personnel Department Examination Division to rank applicants. To name a few -- written tests, evaluations of training and experience, oral interviews, performance tests, and assessment center techniques such as job simulations, in-basket exercises, hypothetical scenario analysis, role plays, video taping assignment, etc. The purpose of these types of employment tests is to surface the best candidates from among all those who apply for a given job.

Examinations are announced on either a current or continuous recruitment basis.

A current examination is one which is opened for recruitment with a specific closing date for the submission of applications. This type of exam is open for a specified period of time. The State Personnel Department, however, may accommodate requests by an agency to extend this period for recruitment efforts if such request is made prior to the publishing of the announcement. Each applicant who has applied or asked for an examination notice for that classification is sent an examination announcement notice which contains the examination date and other specifics of the job such as salary, required education and experience, as well as the type of work to be performed. Applications are first examined to determine where minimum qualifications have been met. Only those meeting the required minimum education and experience qualifications go on to take the examination.

A continuous examination is one which is announced without a definite closing date. Applications can be accepted at any time and examinations are administered periodically during the year. Applications received from candidates who meet the minimum qualifications are scheduled for an upcoming continuous examination.

Merit system examinations can be open for application on an open-competitive or promotional basis. An open-competitive examination is open to all qualified applicants. A promotional examination is open only to state employees who are in job classifications that are in line for promotion.

The process of developing public-sector selection devices is legally and technically complex. There exist standards adopted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) called the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (i.e., Uniform Guidelines) that define the validity of selection devices.

A "typical" content validation process begins with a sound job analysis wherein the content of the job is defined by a group of subject matter experts (SMEs). Normally, during this process, a list of job "task" statements are generated, and a list of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are determined that are deemed necessary to perform the list of job tasks. After the testable KSAs have been isolated, test item construction begins. Test items measure important KSAs, which have themselves been linked to critical job tasks.

The process of content validation is the process by which the employment test and necessary job knowledge, skills and abilities are linked. This ensures that an applicant taking the examination will be evaluated by a selection procedure that is related to job performance.

Conclusion

The first screen through which the applicant must pass is the minimum job qualifications. This is an initial cut in which each applicant's work experience and education as shown on the application form is compared to the qualifications required by the examination announcement notice. A determination is made as to whether the applicant "does" or "does not" meet the announced minimum requirements. If an application does not reveal that the candidate possesses the work experience or education required by the announcement notice they are eliminated from further consideration.

The second screen is the test itself. Candidates may fail to pass the test. Applicants failing the test are eliminated from further consideration for employment at that time. If the exam is on continuous recruitment, an applicant may reapply and retest after nine months.

The third screen is the certification process. According to law, an agency must choose among the top ten available candidates as ranked by their test score. This means applicants must score well enough on the test to rank among the top ten available candidates. Just passing the test is not in itself a guarantee that an applicant will be hired or promoted.

The fourth screen is the responsibility of the hiring agency and includes the interview, reference check, and work history check. For some law enforcement jobs research of previous law violations and/or a drug test is also required. In other jobs, special requirements such as physical agility tests may also be part of this fourth screen considered by the hiring agency.

Certification Division

Structure

The Certification Division is the focal point of enforcement of the Merit System Law. The Division is headed by a Section Manager reporting to a Division Manager. The diversified tasks in this division include maintaining the registers, issuing certifications, and monitoring and enforcing the law regarding employment practices. The staff includes professional, technical, and clerical employees.

The Certification Process

After (1) classifications are established by the Board, (2) positions are approved, and (3) examinations are administered and scored, the results are furnished to the Certification Division. These "test" results, in rank order from high score to low score, are called registers. It is the responsibility of this unit, upon request, to issue a "certification" which is a list of the applicants in the top ten on the register. Since all tie scores are certified, sometimes there are more than ten names, depending on the number of applicants who performed well on the examination. During the process of issuing certifications, the fine points of court orders as well as state and federal laws are monitored and enforced per agencies involved.

Types of Registers

There are several different types of registers available for use by state agencies. Open-competitive registers contain applicants who have met the minimum qualifications and who may or may not already work for the State. Promotional registers include only current state employees who have met the minimum examination requirements and who are in line for a promotion. Departmental promotional registers include only current state employees in a specific department who meet the minimum job requirements and who are in line for a promotion. Reemployment registers are composed of former state employees who had status, (i.e., who have successfully completed a probationary period), who have left state service in good standing and who have been recommended for re-employment by department management. Lay-off registers are composed of employees who have been laid off from their permanent state jobs and who have an absolute right to the first available job in their former job class. A lay-off register takes precedence over any other register in the filling of a vacancy in the department where the employee was laid off, and over open-competitive registers for any other state agency. Aside from this one restriction, an appointing authority may select any available register to fill a vacancy.

Conclusion

The Certification Division is the central point for the enforcement of Merit system rules and regulations by ensuring registers are processed and applicants appointed in accordance with the rules of the State Personnel Board.

Payroll and Personnel Audit Division

Structure

This division certifies the “lawfulness” of state payrolls and reviews personnel actions affecting payrolls and an employee’s personnel record. The staff includes professional, technical, and clerical employees. The division is comprised of two teams along functional lines; one concerned with the personnel process and the other with payroll process. This division is headed by a Manager reporting directly to the Personnel Director.

The Payroll Audit Process

The Payroll Audit unit is responsible for certifying the "lawfulness" of all state payrolls before the State Comptroller can issue payments. To accomplish this enforcement responsibility, the Payroll Audit unit reviews all personnel actions affecting payroll which occur in the State each pay period, i.e., each two weeks. These actions range from a raise, promotion, suspension, demotion, termination, etc. Specialized personnel actions may include advance sick leave, leave without pay, on the job injury, and probationary period. Payroll Audit verifies that the agencies are within the limits established by the State Merit System concerning salary, leave, termination payments, etc.

The Personnel Audit Process

The Personnel Audit unit audits personnel related transactions to assure the correct statistical data is recorded in an employee’s computerized personnel file in order that Federal and State Reporting requirements are met. They also assure the appropriate paper documentation is obtained for the employee paper personnel file. The information captured on an employee’s automated personnel file is used to prepare statistical reports. Specific data relating to each individual State employee is also captured and audited such as type of actions, employment type, date entered classification, race, sex, date of birth, etc. Some examples of reports generated by Personnel Audit include the number of new hires in the State Merit System, Quarterly Employment, EEO reports, termination reports, Court New Hires, Court Promotions, and other statistical reports. Personnel Audit also maintains the State’s automated pay plan which is used to calculate an employee’s pay in the GHRS (government human resource system). They also maintain the pay plan which can be referenced by agencies that have on-line access to the State Personnel System.

Importance of the Division

Personnel Audit along with Payroll Audit assures the employee is properly identified in the automated personnel payroll system. Every personnel action relating to an employee is audited before automated approval is granted in order that every aspect of appointment, transfer, etc., is correct including, but not limited to, pay. Before salary checks can be issued to a state agency by the Comptroller, the Personnel Director must approve the department's payroll. By applying automated approvals to personnel transactions, Payroll and Personnel Audit accomplishes this task. Law violations must be corrected or deleted by the agencies before such approval is given.

Information Technology Division

Structure

The Division is headed by a Section Manager that reports directly to the Personnel Director. The Division staff consists of computer operators, computer programmers, clerical, and support staff.

Importance of the Division

The Division goal is to meet the technology needs of the State Personnel Department. In addition, new technological advances are created, researched, and/or implemented to meet the demands of the ever growing functions of State Personnel.

Training Division

Structure

This Division is also responsible for a centralized training effort that reaches the needs of state agencies and all state employees regarding personnel policies and procedures. In addition, areas of management and leadership training are provided. These programs are scheduled on a continual basis so to meet immediate needs of personnel. A schedule of training events is distributed to each agency. In addition, the Director conducts training for specific agencies. All materials are developed and generated from the Training Division. In addition, various conferences are conducted to facilitate state employees learning.

Conclusion

Training is provided on an equal opportunity basis. In addition to training, responsibilities include development and research in performance appraisal, discipline, and interviewing systems for the State Personnel Department. The Training Division acts as a consulting service for these areas and other organizational development.

Legal Division

Structure

The Division is headed by the General Counsel, who reports directly to the Director of State Personnel. This division employs another attorney who serves as Deputy Legal Counsel and reports directly to the General Counsel. The Division is assisted by administrative support.

Conclusion

This Division assists and coordinates legal affairs of the State Personnel Department and the State Personnel Board.

Administrative Law Division

Structure

Two attorneys, who report directly to the State Personnel Board, serve as the Hearing Officers for termination appeal hearings. This Division hears termination appeals on behalf of the State Personnel Board. Then, the hearing officers make a recommendation to the Board as to what action the Board should take in these matters. The Division is assisted by administrative support.