Question: Last year, I was hired for an “at will” position in my field with a local government agency by the agency’s director. Shortly after I started, the Mayor’s office learned of my employment by the agency, and the agency director told me I could not remain in the job. This spring, a very similar thing happened: I was hired by another agency director. A few weeks later, shortly after I bumped into the Mayor at an agency function, I was terminated from this job, “without cause.” Anything I can do?

Debra, Washington, DC

Answer: Most local governments have rules and regulations that govern which employees have protection from being fired for political reasons, commonly called “civil service employees” or “civil servants,” and which employees serve in their jobs merely at the whim of the Mayor, commonly called “political appointees.” Your ability to combat political influence in your employment (including being fired for political reasons) generally depends on which side of the “fence” – “civil servant” or “political appointee” – you sit.

Those who fill “civil service” positions usually have to make formal application for the position, possess specific degrees or other job qualifications, take examinations to qualify for the position, and wait on a list of qualified persons for an unfilled position to open up. They have a protected status as a kind of “professional government employee.” In order to fire a civil servant, there usually must be followed a lengthy procedure, including an impartial hearing, a finding of either serious misconduct or continual poor performance, and an appeal procedure, too.

Those who fill “political appointments” usually get their jobs through working on political campaigns, making or raising political contributions, or simply knowing the “right” people. These people are expected to leave (or be fired) at the end of an office holder’s administration. They have no protected status. They can be fired for no reason at all, or a simple dislike by higher political appointees or elected officials. If they worked for a political enemy of the Mayor, they can even expect to be fired.

It sounds to me like both of your positions were political appointments, subject to the hiring and firing whim of the Mayor. That would leave you little, if anything, to combat the problem. However, please consider seeking a civil service position next time around; that should be more secure.

Sorry if that doesn’t give you much hope, but I do hope it clarifies things for you. Thanks for submitting your question.

Best, Al Sklover

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