December 13, 2005
JOB PROTECTION FOR STATE AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES ELECTED TO PUBLIC OFFICE
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked if state and municipal employees' jobs are protected during their race for, or election to, public office.
State and municipal employees generally have job protection during their service in elective public office, but not during their race for the office. These employees may take a personal leave of absence, for up to four years, to accept a full-time elective office. The leave is available to municipal employees who accept a full-time municipal, but not state, office. Once the leave expires, employees who ask must be reinstated to their original or a similar position. If no positions are available, a returning municipal employee must be placed on all reemployment lists for his job classification.
Although most state and municipal employees have job protection when serving in elective public office, not all such employees may run for partisan public office. Thus, only those employees allowed to run for elective office are eligible for job protection. The federal Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government and state and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. Specifically, they cannot run for partisan public office. State law generally allows state and municipal employees who are not covered by the Hatch Act to seek and hold partisan political office.
JOB PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYEES ELECTED TO PUBLIC OFFICE
A person employed in the classified service (the vast majority of executive branch employees) or the Judicial Department may run for nonpartisan office. Employees who are not covered by the Hatch Act generally can also be a candidate for partisan local, state, or federal office. However, a state employee may not hold municipal office if there is a conflict of interest.
Although permitted to run for public office, an employee may not (l) use his official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election or a nomination for office; or (2) directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, or advise a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value for political purposes. Employees are also banned from engaging in political activities while on duty. Finally, no employee can use state funds or other resources to support or oppose any candidate, party, or issue in a partisan election.
An employee who is a candidate for state office or for full-time municipal office must notify his employer within 30 days of nomination. Employees who are elected to state office must resign from their employment upon taking office. Employers must grant a personal leave of absence to those who leave state service to accept a full-time elective municipal office. The leave expires after two consecutive terms of office or four years, whichever is shorter. Once the leave expires and the employee asks, his employer must reinstate him in his original or a similar position with equivalent pay, or a vacant position that he is qualified to fill (CGS § 5-266a).
Municipal employees (other than those covered by the Hatch Act) can run for and hold a federal, state, or municipal elective office. They can also serve on any appointed or elected local government body in towns where they live, except (1) bodies responsible for supervising them directly as employees; (2) boards of finance; (3) bodies exercising zoning, land use, or planning powers; and (4) bodies regulating inland wetlands and watercourses. Exceptions 2 through 4 do not apply if a local charter, home rule ordinance, or adopted local ordinance explicitly allows an employee to serve or if he serves only in his capacity as a member of the town's legislative body.
However, no employee can engage in these political activities or perform the duties of an elective office while on duty or while he is expected to perform work for which he is being paid by the town.
Like their state counterparts, municipal employees must notify their employer within 30 days of their candidacy for office. Those who leave office to accept full-time elective municipal office are eligible for a personal leave of absence that runs for two consecutive terms of office or four years, whichever is shorter (An employer may extend the leave). Once the leave expires and the employee asks, his employer must reinstate him in his original or a similar position with equivalent pay, or a vacant position that he is qualified to fill. If no such positions are available, the employees name must be place on all reemployment lists for their respective classes (CGS §§ 7-421 to 7-421b).
POLITICAL ACTIVITY UNDER THE FEDERAL HATCH ACT
The Hatch Act applies to executive branch state and local employees who are principally employed in programs financed in whole or in part by the United States or a federal agency. Employees who work for educational or research institutions that are supported in whole or in part by a state or its political subdivision are not covered by the act, even if they are also financed by the federal government. The law also does not apply to mayors or unclassified elected department heads.
Affected employees may not:
1. be candidates for public office in a partisan election,
2. use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination, or
3. directly or indirectly coerce contributions from subordinates in support of a political party or candidate.
If an affected employee violates these provisions, his agency must dismiss him or risk losing federal funds. Connecticut challenged this provision as violating an employee's constitutional right of political association as well as the Tenth Amendment and the equal protection clause of the U. S. Constitution. The challenge failed (Conn. Dept. of Human Resources v. U. S. Merit Service Promotion Board, 718 F. Supp. 125 (D. Conn. 1989), aff'd mem., 896 F. 2d 543 (2d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U. S. 810 (1990)).
On the other hand, affected employees may:
1. run for public office in nonpartisan elections,
2. campaign for and hold office in political clubs and organizations,
3. actively campaign for candidates for public office in partisan and nonpartisan elections, and
4. contribute money to political organizations and attend political fundraising functions (5 U. S. C. §§ 1501-1508).