The State Worker

Transfers getting tougher for California state workers

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

For years, the state has given employees a pass on meeting the minimum requirements for some jobs.

Now that’s over, and moving up the state job ladder just got a lot harder for thousands of state workers.

State human resources shops and union officials have been buzzing since California’s merit system watchdog, the State Personnel Board, recently told departments that they can no longer transfer employees into jobs for which they’re unqualified.

Last November the board ruled that the California Public Utilities Commission awarded a transfer without a test to an employee who lacked the experience and the education for the job. Employees can move between similar types of jobs without taking a civil service test if the pay difference between the two jobs is less than 10 percent. The big advantage: Those so-called “lateral transfers” sidestep civil service tests everyone else has to take to apply for a state job.

And why should they? Lateral transferees are experienced, proven and are doing similar work already, right?

The board’s PUC ruling morphed into a broad review of minimum qualifications for all state jobs. It also outed the transfer policy that many departments, such as the PUC, have followed for many years that moves unqualified insiders around via transfers while denying those jobs to other applicants who meet minimum qualifications.

State personnel officials say they’re working through the implications with unions and departments. But it’s clear that this will affect upward mobility of some workers who might have been able to combine lateral transfers and regular promotions to enhance their pay and move up the org chart.

The Franchise Tax Board recently issued an email to employees with an example of how the new adherence to the rules works:

“An Office Technician who is interested in transferring to the Staff Services Analyst classification would have to ... have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from a recognized four-year accredited college or university, or have work experience in the California state service as substitution for this education on a year-for-year basis, and have at least six semester or nine quarter units of college level training in public or business administration, accounting, economics, etc.”

That last part, italicized by this column for emphasis, describes a minimum qualification that departments have historically skipped. State service time was good enough.

The new policy still gives state employees an advantage, but it remains a touchy topic for them. Many are single parents. Some hold down two jobs. Taking college courses to meet job standards is difficult for them. The tax board’s memo mentions one possible solution – offering easily accessible college courses to help workers meet educational requirements.

What are the alternatives? Ignore standards? Lower the state’s minimum qualifications?

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