Civil Service Law & Legal Definition


Civil servants are public employees hired to provide services to the public by federal, state, county, and municipal governments. The legislature provides the methods by which civil servants are selected and regulations governing the civil service.

A civil service system is established by the legislature, who may delegate to a board of civil service commissioners the authority to make rules consistent with existing laws, to conduct investigations, and generally to exercise any and all administrative measures necessary and proper to achieve the objectives and purposes of the civil service laws. Appointments are normally made from eligibility lists composed of persons meeting the established qualifications as determined by tests and civil service examinations. The procedures for the hiring and firing of civil servants are generally more regulated and less discretionary than those for employees in the private sector.

Civil service positions are often associated with a bureaucracy, which is characterized by a hierarchical authority structure, task specialization, and extensive rules. Bureaucracies are often regarded in a negative light due to perceived unresponsiveness to the public's needs. Critics of the civil service system allege that since civil servants must be fired "for cause", they lack the incentive to provide the same level of service that employees who can be fired at will possess. Therefore, they may function in a bureaucratic matter and resist challenges to perform outside the scope of their defined duties.