Merit Reform Legislation to Change How State of Missouri Recruits, Recognizes Its Employees

 — Merit reform legislation passed by the State of Missouri General Assembly during the 2018 legislative session takes effect today, giving the state greater flexibility in how it manages its workforce. 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. Ultimately, merit reform will 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 legislature 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 decades in attempts to improve management practices and to streamline personnel systems. Despite the revisions, the law still hindered the state’s ability in several areas, including employee recruitment and recognition.

The merit reform law gives the State of Missouri the opportunity to make meaningful management changes that will positively affect state workers. 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.

“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.”

Thanks to the merit reform law, 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.

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.”

Merit reform is part of a bigger picture – the transformation of management in state government. Missouri is also investing in new ways to develop its leaders such as with the launch of the new state Leadership Academy and The Missouri Way advanced management training program. The State of Missouri is making strides in not only developing its overall workforce, but also the managers and supervisors who will lead it.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, formerly a state senator, sponsored the merit reform law in the legislature.

Read more about the merit reform changes in a joint opinion piece by Gov. Parson and Lt. Gov. Kehoe: Merit reform law to transform State of Missouri management