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Overhaul of merit system goes into effect giving state greater workforce flexibility


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An overhaul of Missouri’s merit system for state employees goes into effect on Tuesday, giving the state greater flexibility in how it manages its workforce by making most workers “at will.”

The State of Missouri now has the ability to identify and implement new ways to attract the best-qualified job candidates and recognize employees’ superior performance. The aim of the legislation was to allow the state to strengthen its teams within all 16 executive departments to better serve the citizens of Missouri.

“The citizens of Missouri have high expectations for their state government. And, they should. They expect us to move our state, its economy, and its infrastructure forward, while fulfilling our most important duty — ensuring the safety of all Missourians,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “To serve our citizens better and deliver the results they deserve, we must continue to build a strong workforce. The new merit reform law will help us improve how state government operates for the benefit of both our citizens and our committed public servants by investing in new ways of working like never before.”

In 1946, the General Assembly passed the “State Merit System Law,” which created the Personnel Advisory Board and the state’s Division of Personnel. The law has been updated over the decades in attempts to improve management practices and to streamline personnel systems.

Overhauling the merit law gives the state the opportunity to make meaningful management changes that will positively affect state workers, according to supporters.

Now, the state has greater flexibility to increase the talent pool of job applicants and hire the best-qualified candidates. Under the merit system, the state was bound to hire from a restricted number of applicants for positions under the merit system. This limited the talent pool and sometimes excluded candidates with the most relevant work experience or specific skill set.

With the changes to the law going into effect, the state will not only be able to recruit the best-qualified employees, but it will also be able to do so faster. In certain instances, the state has taken up to 90 days to hire applicants. The state’s Human Resources managers have spent tens of thousands of hours annually on processing merit system paperwork. That time can now be directed toward more valuable tasks, like recruiting job candidates.

“Just this past weekend a retired state employee stopped me in the grocery store to say they wish they could have been a manager in a state department absent the confines and restraints of the merit system,” Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said. “Over and over, in a variety of unsolicited settings, managers in state government tell me of the imminent positive effects of merit reform. Enabling managers to place the right employees in the right jobs, based on their skills and performance, will make their units more productive and allow managers to better recognize and reward employees for superior performance.”

The merit reform law brings the majority of state employees into the “at will” category. “At will” employees may be selected at the discretion of the appointing authority, serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority, and may be discharged – as the statute says – for no reason or any reason not prohibited by law. The merit reform law does not change whistleblower, sexual harassment, or discrimination protections for employees.

“State employees are state government’s most precious resource. For too long, they’ve gone unrecognized for the superior services they provide to our citizens,” Sarah Steelman, Commissioner of the Office of Administration said. “I look forward to continued collaboration between the Office of Administration and agencies across state government to find better ways to recruit, develop, and recognize state employees. They deserve it.”