State workers fall into two categories: merit and nonmerit employees. Nonmerit state workers are referred to as "unclassified" employees who cannot be members or pay due to the union. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's “New Deal” program established a merit system for civil personnel as a reaction to the economic depression of the 1930s. This system strives to fill public service positions with the best and brightest, bolstering employee morale along the way. While the merit system was installed as a requirement for receiving federal funding and employment services, state agencies also employ nonmerit personnel.
Though the classification of civil service employees may vary per state, most merit – or “classified” – employees complete a working test period. The state must have just cause to discipline merit personnel. Merit employees have the right to file complaints and grievances regarding issues such as employee treatment, position classification and reinstatement. Some states maintain a register of eligible applicants.
Nonmerit employees do not have the same protections. The state may demote, discipline, dismiss or transfer nonmerit personnel for any reason, as long as it does not conflict with public policy. Appointing authorities have full control of nonmerit, also known as “unclassified” employees. However, nonmerit employees still have the right to file complaints over dismissal, demotion and suspension.
The state, not the employee, reaps the most benefits when it comes to unclassified workers. Non-merit employees provide state agencies with a quick and flexible hiring solution that doesn't require as much paperwork as hiring classified employees. Nonmerit salaries, unlike merit salaries, are not limited by set pay scales.
Unlike merit employees, nonmerit employees do not have full grievance protection. Because nonmerit positions do not have minimum requirements, some nonmerit employees may lack the necessary job qualifications. While nonmerit salaries are more flexible than merit salaries, their structure can lead to confusion and inconsistency. Perhaps the biggest concern for nonmerit employees is the fact that the state can terminate them at will.