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Civil Service


This webpage explores the creation and operation of the civil service commission and deals primarily with the state statutes governing civil service for public safety employees - police officers, deputy sheriffs, and firefighters. The civil service rules that apply to other systems, such as Seattle's civil service system for non-public safety employees, do not necessarily follow the same rules established by state law, since their systems are governed by local rules, ordinances, or charters. In addition, even the local rules for public safety employees may differ among the covered jurisdictions (except for deputy sheriffs), as differing local rules may still be sustainable, if they "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the state provisions.

Civil service in local government seeks to curb political favoritism and remove the coercive pressures that once caused public employees to contribute money and time to partisan political candidates, to the detriment of the work for which they were paid. Civil service helps assure that firefighters and law enforcement officers are recruited through open competition, hired and promoted on the basis of merit, and are demoted, suspended, removed from office, or discharged only for cause.

For Washington's cities and towns, civil service is established for firefighters by Ch. 41.08 RCW and by Ch. 41.12 RCW for police. (Civil service, however, is not required for a police department of "not more than two persons, including the chief of police" (RCW 41.12.010) or for departments composed entirely of volunteers.)

For Washington counties, civil service is provided for the sheriff's office by Ch. 41.14 RCW. Fire and police chiefs, appointed after July 1, 1987, may be removed from civil service by vote of the city council or commission. RCW 41.08.050 and 41.12.050. The county sheriff and certain "unclassified positions" are similarly not covered by civil service. See RCW 41.14.070. Fire protection districts may - but are not required to - provide for civil service for their fully-paid officers. See RCW 52.30.040; Roberts v. Fire Protection Dist., 44 Wn. App. 744 (1986).

Civil Service Commission

Both city and county civil service laws require the appointment of a civil service commission, assuming the city, town, or county must provide for civil service. Appointments to the commission are usually made by the mayor, city manager, or board of county commissioners, and the persons appointed are not subject to confirmation. A civil service commission has three members; each commission member must be a citizen of the United States and an elector of the county in which he or she resides. See RCW 41.08.030, 41.12.030, and 41.14.030. (An "elector" is a person who is a citizen of the United States, aged 18 years or older, and a resident. See article 6, section 1 of the State Constitution.) In addition, each commission member must have been a resident of the city or town for which he or she will serve for at least three years immediately prior to appointment or, in case of a county civil service commission, a resident of the county for two years before appointment. (Counties having a population of less than 40,000 may join with other counties to create a combined civil service commission. See RCW 41.14.040. In a combined county commission, members need only meet the residency requirements for one of the combined counties. Id.)

At the time of appointment, no more than two of the commission members may be "adherents to the same political party." See RCW 41.08.030, 41.12.030, and 41.14.030. (According to one commentator, however, the political party limitation is of questionable legal authority and is, in any case, regularly ignored.) Commission members serve without compensation, although they may have their expenses reimbursed. Commissioners, except for the initial appointees, serve six-year terms, but may be removed, following written notice and a hearing, for incompetence, incompatibility, dereliction of duty, malfeasance, or for "other good cause." See RCW 41.08.030, 41.12.030, and 41.14.030.

The civil service commission's duties include the following:

  • Make rules for operation of the civil service system that are consistent with state law.
  • Give practical tests to determine the capacity of persons examined to perform duties of the position sought.
  • Conduct investigations and prepare reports.
  • Hear and determine appeals or complaints.
  • Provide for, develop and hold competitive tests to determine relative qualifications of candidates and, as result of the testing process, prepare eligibility lists.
  • Certify to the appointing authority the name (or names) of the individual(s) ranked highest on the eligibility list.
  • Keep records.
  • Approve payrolls.

See RCW 41.08.040, 41.08.120, 41.12.040, 41.12.120 41.14.060, and 41.14.150

The commission meets at least monthly. See RCW 41.08.040, 41.12.040 and 41.14.050. The city, town, or county that establishes the civil service commission provides "suitable and convenient rooms and accommodations and cause[s] the same to be furnished, heated, lighted and supplied." See RCW 41.08.180, 41.12.180, and 41.14.200.

Secretary and Chief Examiner

Once a civil service commission has been created, its members, following a competitive examination, appoint a secretary and chief examiner. See RCW 41.08.040, 41.12.040, and 41.14.050. (For cities and towns, the examination may either be open to city or town citizens or limited to persons already employed in the police, fire or other departments. See RCW 41.08.040 and 41.12.040. In counties, the examination must be open to all qualified citizens of the county; the appointee, however, may not be an employee of the sheriff's department. See RCW 41.14.050. For a discussion of the residency requirements established by statute for the secretary/chief examiner, see AGO 1989 No. 20. (The local rules of a city or town can probably eliminate the residency requirement, since their regulations need only "substantially accomplish the purpose" of the state civil service laws; county statutes are less flexible, though, and it is likely the secretary/chief examiner must, as the statue requires, be a county resident. Cf. See RCW 41.08.010, 41.12.010, and 41.14.010; see, generally, Deputy Sheriff's Guild v. Comm'rs, 92 Wn.2d 844 (1979).) In some jurisdictions, the duties of secretary/chief examiner are performed by an existing employee, such as by the human resources director.) The secretary/chief examiner keeps the commission's records and preserves its reports; he or she supervises and keeps records of all examinations and performs other duties as requested by the commission. Id.

Examinations and Eligibility Registers

One of the civil service commission's more important duties is the conduct of competitive examinations to determine the "merit, efficiency and fitness" of persons seeking appointment or promotion to classified civil service positions. Tests are to be practical and consist only of subjects which will fairly determine the capacity of the candidates to perform the duties of the position sought; the examination may include tests of physical fitness and manual skill. See RCW 41.08.040(2), 41.12.040(2), and 41.14.060(2). State law does not dictate the kind of testing required, and the courts have concluded commissions have broad discretion in determining the content and subjects for examinations. O'Brien v. Civil Service Commission, 14 Wn. App. 760 (1976).

Applicants for appointment must be United States citizens and able to read and write the English language. See RCW 41.08.070, 41.12.070, and 41.14.100. In cities and towns, candidates must also "be of an age suitable for the position applied for, in ordinary good health, of good moral character and of temperate and industrious habits." See RCW 41.08.070 and 41.12.070.

Once tested, passing candidates are placed according to their scores onto an eligibility register used for making appointments or promotions. (Not all tests are necessarily given to all candidates nor at the same time. Commissions sometimes wait until the appointing authority is actually ready to make an appointment before giving the higher-ranked candidates "final" and often more costly tests, such as drug, psychological, and polygraph tests.)

Veterans who pass an examination are given a "scoring criteria status" (formerly termed a "preference") in the development of the eligibility register. (The term "veteran" is defined at RCW 41.04.005.) For veterans who served during a period of war or in an armed conflict and are not receiving any retirement benefits, ten percent is added to his or her passing mark, grade, or rating for purposes of appointment, but not for promotion. See RCW 41.04.010(1). This status is available only until the veteran's first appointment. Veterans who did not serve during a period of war or who are receiving military retirement are entitled to a five percent scoring criteria status. See RCW 41.04.010(2). Like the first category, it may be used only until a veteran's first appointment and may not be used in any promotional exam. Five percent is added if the candidate was called or recalled into active military service for a period of at least one year from employment with the state or any of its political subdivisions or municipal corporations. See RCW 41.04.010(3). This category applies to first promotional examinations only. There is no time limit for claiming a scoring criteria status. For additional information regarding the use of the scoring criteria status, see MRSC Focus article Veterans' Preference or "Scoring Criteria" Status in Civil Service.


If a position in classified civil service becomes vacant or a new position is added, the appointing authority (mayor, city manager; or county sheriff, with consent of county commissioners) requests ("requisitions") the civil service commission for the names and addresses of those persons eligible for appointment. See RCW 41.08.100, 41.12.100, and 41.14.130. In response, the commission certifies, for cities and towns, the person standing highest on the eligibility list willing to accept employment. See RCW 41.08.100 and 42.12.100. For county sheriff departments, the commission certifies the top three candidates. See RCW 42.14.130. (While statutes require city and town commissions certify the top candidate (the "rule of one"), some jurisdictions have adopted local rules allowing the certification of the top three (or five) candidates (the "rule of three"). The rule of three has been upheld as "substantially accomplishing" the civil service rules. See Firefighters v. Walla Walla, 90 Wn.2d 828 (1978). The rule of three is statutorily in effect for counties. See RCW 41.14.130.)

Sometimes there is no register for the position sought to be filled. In those instances, the civil service commission certifies the person (or persons) highest on the "list held appropriate for the class." See RCW 41.08.100, 41.12.100, and 41.14.130. Appointments from the alternative lists are often referred to as "temporary" or "provisional" appointments.

Temporary or provisional appointments shall not continue for a period longer than four months; nor shall any person receive more than one provisional appointment or serve more than four months as provisional appointee in any one fiscal year.

See RCW 41.08.040(9) and 41.12.040(9). While the statutes are clear in their limitations, some cities and towns nevertheless provide for longer temporary appointments and/or for extensions. Such practices can likely be justified, so long as the local rules "substantially accomplish" the civil service statutory requirements; counties appear to have much less flexibility in differing from their statutory limitations. County appointments likewise are for a period not to exceed four months; however, by legislation passed in 2001, the appointment can be extended for a period up to one year, if the county continues to advertise and test for the position. See RCW 41.14.060(7). If after one year there are less than three persons on the eligible list, the appointing authority may fill the position with any person on the list. Id.

Appointment (or other) procedures agreed to as result of collective bargaining, if in conflict with civil services rules, will prevail over the civil service rules, unless the local civil service commission is similar in scope, structure, and authority to the state personnel board (and it is unlikely that the local commission will be similar). Spokane and Spokane Police Guild vs. Spokane Civil Service Commission, 98 Wn. App. 574 (1999), review denied, 141 Wn.2d 1013 (2000).


An appointment is not complete (and an appointee does not receive all of the civil service protections) until after a probationary period is completed. Probation allows the employer to train the appointee and determine whether he or she will be able to actually perform the duties of the position. For cities and towns, the probationary period is three to six months; in counties, the period is for one year. See RCW 41.08.100, 41.12.100, and RCW 41.14.130. As is true for other rules, some cities or towns have established longer probationary period than required by statute; such individual differences can be justified if they "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the civil service laws. In Westport, for example, the city adopted a one-year probationary period, allowing supervisory personnel a longer period to judge appointees, especially during the summer months when tourism significantly increases the city's population and the police department's workload. See Arbogast v. Westport, 18 Wn. App. 4 (1976), and Samuels v. Lake Stevens, 50 Wn. App. 475 (1988).

While a person who has completed probation can only be removed from his or her position "for cause," the same is not true for someone on probation. A person on probation may be removed for virtually any reason, so long as it is not for a discriminatory or other inappropriate reason.

Discipline and Discharge

Unlike "at will" employees, an employee covered by civil service has certain job protections; the employee may only be removed, suspended, demoted, or discharged from his or her position "for cause" and then only after a written accusation, set out in general terms, has been given. See RCW 41.08.090, 41.12.090, and 41.14.120. If the employee objects or disagrees with the action, he or she may submit a written "demand" to the civil service commission for an investigation. (The demand for a hearing/investigation must be filed within ten days of the employment action. See RCW 41.12.090, 41.14.120, and 41.08.090.) The commission (within 30 days in counties) must schedule a public hearing for an investigation. In counties, the hearing should be held within 30 days of the demand's receipt. See RCW 41.14.120. The hearing is confined to the determination of whether the employment action (removal, suspension, etc.) was "for just cause." After the investigation is complete, the commission issues a written determination (within ten days for commissions serving a sheriff's department) either affirming, reversing, or modifying the employment action.

What is "for cause"? Each of the three civil service statutes sets out grounds for discharge, reductions or deprivation of privilege, which include:

  • (1) Incompetency, inefficiency or inattention to or dereliction of duty; (2) Dishonesty, intemperance, immoral conduct, insubordination, discourteous treatment of the public or a fellow employee, or any other act of omission or commission tending to injure the public service; or any other willful failure on the part of the employee to properly conduct himself; or any willful violation of civil service statutes, rules, or regulations; (3) Mental or physical unfitness for the position which the employee holds; (4) Dishonest, disgraceful, immoral or prejudicial conduct; (5) Drunkenness or use of intoxicating liquors, narcotics, or any other habit forming drug, liquid or preparation to such extent the use interferes with the efficiency or mental or physical fitness of the employee, or which precludes the employee from properly performing the functions and duties of any position under civil service; (6) Conviction of a felony, or a misdemeanor, involving moral turpitude; (7) Any other act or failure to act which in the judgment of the civil service commissioners is sufficient to show the offender to be an unsuitable and unfit person to be employed in the public service.

See RCW 41.08.080, 41.12.080, and 41.14.110.

The courts have given guidance, construing several of the terms set out in the above statutory excerpt. In Eiden v. Snohomish Civil Service Commission, 13 Wn. App. 32 (1975), for example, the court concluded a sheriff deputy who had jokingly answered the phone using another deputy's name was not "incompetent," as he otherwise performed his duties. The court, quoting from a Florida decision, offered the following definition for the term "incompetent":

  • Incompetency as a ground for suspension and removal has reference to any physical, moral or intellectual quality, the lack of which incapacitate[s] one to perform the duties of his office. Incompetency may arise from gross ignorance of official duties or gross carelessness in the discharge of them. It may also arise from lack of judgment and discretion or from a serious physical or mental effect not present at the time of election, though we do not imply that all physical and mental defects so arising would give ground for suspension.

In Nickerson v. Anacortes, 45 Wn. App. 432 (1986), the court upheld a decision of the civil service commission that held the possession and use of marijuana constituted "for cause." The court in Danielson v. Seattle, 45 Wn. App. 235 (1986), upheld a determination by the civil service commission that a police officer, who unlawfully used a credit card of another, was properly discharged for incompetency, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming a police officer.

Legal References


  • Ch. 41.08 RCW - Civil Service for City Firemen - These statutes provide civil service procedures for city firemen.
  • Ch. 41.12 RCW - Civil Service for City Police - These statutes provide civil service procedures for city police.
  • RCW 35.61.140 - Park Commissioners - Civil Service for Employees- This statute allows but does not require establishment of civil service procedures for a metropolitan park district.
  • RCW 35A.11.020 - Powers vested in legislative bodies of noncharter and charter code cities - This statute authorizes establishment of a civil service or merit system in a code city, and requires that such system substantially accomplish the purposes spelled out in Ch. 41.08 RCW and in Ch. 41.12 RCW. (Emphasis added)
  • RCW 35.22.030 and RCW 35.22.195 - Charter Cities - Powers of cities having ten thousand or more population - Power to frame charter - "Population" defined - This statute authorized cities of more than ten thousand population to frame a charter that allows it to conduct its affairs consistent with and subject to state law.
  • RCW 41.12.050 - Persons included - Competitive examinations - Transfers, discharges, and reinstatements - This statute requires that all full paid employees of the police department are to be covered by civil service, except individuals appointed as police chief after July 1, 1987, to a department with six or more commissioned officers, including the police chief, may be excluded by the legislative body of the city or town.
  • RCW 41.08.050 - Persons included - Competitive examinations - Transfers, discharges, and reinstatements - This statute requires that all full paid employees of the fire department are to be covered by civil service, except that individuals appointed as fire chief after July 1, 1987, may be excluded by the legislative body of the city or town.
  • Ch. 41.14 RCW - Civil Service for Sheriff's Office - Details the requirements and procedures for civil service in counties.

Supreme Court Decisions

  • Seattle Police Officers' Guild v. City of Seattle, 151 Wn.2d 823 (2004) - Rule of five substantially accomplishes purpose of state civil service laws

    The case upholds a Seattle civil service rule allowing the appointing authority (the chief of police) to fill a position by selecting a candidate from the top five applicants by the civil service commission. The court found that this "Rule of Five" had historical roots, was similar to the "Rule of Three" previously upheld by the court, and "substantially accomplished" the purposes of the state civil service laws. Another aspect of the Seattle rules, however, one that allowed the chief to select from either the top five candidates or the top 25 percent of the applicants, whichever number was greater, was held to give the chief too much discretion and thus was inconsistent with state law.

  • Civil Service Commission v. City of Kelso, 137 Wn.2d 166 (1999) - Suspended officer may seek arbitration

    An officer who appeals a suspension to the civil service commission is not precluded from seeking to arbitrate the suspension under his collective bargaining agreement. Where two appeal processes are concerned with different substantive rights, the court will not impose an election of remedies clause where none has been bargained for by the parties.

  • Yakima v. Fire Fighters, 117 Wn.2d 655 (1991) - Civil service commission not exempt from duty to collectively bargain

    A city's civil service commission is not sufficiently similar to the state personnel board to qualify for the RCW 41.56.100 exemption from its duty to collectively bargain with its public employees as to matters the city had delegated to its civil service commission.

  • Shoemaker v. Bremerton, 109 Wn.2d 504 (1987)- The factual findings of the civil service commission have a preclusive effect in a federal civil rights. The administrative determination of fact is entitled to collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent civil suit.


  • Rose v. Erickson, 106 Wn.2d 420 (1986) - Civil service does not supplant collective bargaining rights

    The legislature did not intend the procedures of ch. 41.14 RCW (civil service) to supplant ch. 41.56 RCW (collective bargaining); the legislature intended that ch. 41.56 RCW prevail.

  • Jordan v. Oakville, 106 Wn.2d 122 (1986) - If size of police force does not exceed two officers, city need not provide for civil service and its police officers are terminable at will.


  • Pierce Cy. Sheriff v. Civil Service Comm., 98 Wn.2d 690 (1983) - Avenues of appeal of civil service decision

    There are three potential avenues of appeal from a decision of the civil service commission. First, a specific statute may authorize appeal. For example, RCW 41.14.120 specifically permits an "employee" to appeal an adverse civil service commission decision. Second, any party may obtain review by a statutory writ of certiorari if the agency is "exercising judicial functions". RCW 7.16.040. Finally, the courts have inherent constitutional power to review "illegal or manifestly arbitrary and capricious action violative of fundamental rights. On appeal the issue is whether the commission's decision was arbitrary and capricious which requires an evaluation of the evidence produced at the hearing. The scope of court review should be very narrow, and the one who seeks to demonstrate that action is arbitrary and capricious must carry a heavy burden. Arbitrary and capricious action has been defined as willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and in disregard of facts and circumstances. Where there is room for two opinions, action is not arbitrary and capricious even though one may believe an erroneous conclusion has been reached.

  • Helland v. King County Civil Service, 84 Wn.2d 858 (1980) - An administrative agency's conclusion will be reversed where it is contrary to law, or where it is so unsupportable that it can only be designated as arbitrary and capricious.


  • Deputy Sheriff's Guild v. Commissioners, 92 Wn.2d 844 (1979) - State civil service laws can preempt coverage under county personnel system.

    Chapter 41.14 RCW preempts coverage by county personnel systems of deputy sheriffs' selection, promotion and termination. Under the state supremacy clause, if there is a conflict, RCW 41.14's merit system of employment for deputy sheriffs will preempt the application of an ordinance; however, not every provision of a local ordinance necessarily conflicts with and is preempted by chapter 41.14 RCW.

  • Maehren v. Seattle, 92 Wn.2d 480 (1979) - Case involving (and upholding) use of selective certification; issue likely moot now in view of the passage of Initiative 200.


  • Fire Fighters v. Walla Walla, 90 Wn.2d 828 (1978) - "Rule of three."

    Certification of a single name for a vacancy is not essential to substantially accomplishing the same purpose as the state act (allows use of the rule of three).

  • State ex rel. Beam v. Fulwiler, 76 Wn.2d 313 (1969) - Commission cannot hear appeal of its own investigation

    Commission, which investigated, accused, and recommended a dismissal may not hear civil service person's appeal of dismissal; superior court has inherent jurisdiction to consider appeal.

  • Vancouver v. Jarvis, 76 Wn.2d 110 (1969) - In reviewing a civil service commission proceeding, the courts cannot substitute their judgment for the independent judgment of the commission.


  • State ex rel. Perry v. Seattle, 69 Wn.2d 816 (1966) - Court's authority to review commission decision

    When, in a case of removal from office or position within the classified civil service, it appears that the appointing power has filed with the civil service commission a written statement of the reasons for the removal, upon charges that cannot be said to be utterly frivolous, and when it further appears that the commission has awarded the party charged a full opportunity to be heard, and that competent evidence has been produced tending, in some measure at least, to prove the charges made, the court may not inquire into the weight or sufficiency of the evidence. Its power is confined to the inquiry whether the officers entrusted with the authority to effect removals and discharges have acted within the prescribed rules. A decision by an administrative commission is not arbitrary and capricious simply because a trial court and this court conclude, after reading the record, that they would have decided otherwise had they been the administrative commission. Where a tribunal has been established to hold inquiries and make decisions as to whether an employee shall be dismissed, review by the judiciary is limited to determining whether an opportunity was given to be heard and whether competent evidence supported the charge.

  • Patton v. Wheelon, 65 Wn.2d 320 (1964) - A citizen could not require the civil service commission to investigate a complaint she had against police officers.


  • Reynolds v. Kirkland Police Comm., 62 Wn.2d 720 (1963) - The commission which both accused chief and sergeant and then investigated their suspension was not consistent with state law and its actions violated due process.


  • State ex rel. West v. Seattle, 61 Wn.2d 658 (1963) - Local civil service rule required termination by department head; employee's dismissal by delegated assistant ineffective as a violation of rule.


  • State ex rel. Mulkey v. Auburn, 60 Wn.2d 728 (1962) - Commission must follow its own rules

    Although the commission may exercise wide discretion when conducting examinations, it may not violate its own regulations formally promulgated. (Rules required examiner to be present during all tests; examiner failed to attend portion of oral exam.)

  • State ex rel. Johnson v. Funkhouser, 52 Wn.2d 370 (1958) - Commission has no authority over pensions

    Pensions granted because of disability can be terminated only by a pension board, as provided by RCW 41.20.060 and RCW 41.20.110. The statutory jurisdictions of the civil service board and the pension board are separate and distinct. Action by a civil service board terminating employment does not affect a vested right to disability benefits, over which the pension board has exclusive jurisdiction.

  • Hellum v. Johnson, 51 Wn.2d 326 (1957) - Upheld use of the "rule of three" in making appointments (third person on list was appointed).


  • Stoor v. Seattle, 44 Wn.2d 405 (1954) - The commission has a wide discretion in the examination of applicants with regard to the manner of performing its duties and exercising its powers.


  • Mosebar v. Moore, 41 Wn.2d 216, 248 P.2d 385 (1952) - Residency of civil servant

    A civil servant, otherwise qualified, cannot be discharged for having moved his residence beyond the corporate limits. The law here in question (RCW 35.21.200), is a general law and applies equally to all persons within a given class.

  • Luellen v. Aberdeen, 20 Wn.2d 594 (1944) - Civil service rights of officers

    In cases of tenure under civil service, where the officer shall hold office until removed or retired, it is implied that he can be removed for cause only and then only after due notice and hearing or opportunity given to be heard. Where a police officer under civil service was removed without any statement of the charges made against him having been given him nor any notice of any hearing having been accorded him, his removal was illegal and of no force or effect. The opportunity to be heard has at least three substantial elements: (1) the right to know seasonably the charges or claims preferred; (2) the right to meet the charges with witnesses and evidence; and (3) the right to have the aid of counsel. If any of these rights are denied a party, he does not have a hearing that is conformable to the elementary standards of fairness and reasonableness. When the right of a police officer to receive a pension has become established, the chief of police and the civil service commission have no legal right to remove him from his position and thereby prevent him from becoming eligible to make application for retirement and a pension.

  • State ex rel. Price v. Seattle, 20 Wn.2d 17 (1944) - Court's authority on appeal

    Upon removal of an officer within the classified civil service, in which the appointing power has filed a written statement of the reasons for the removal, upon charges that cannot be said to be utterly frivolous, after full opportunity to be heard, and in which there was competent evidence tending to prove the charges, the courts will not inquire into the weight or sufficiency of the evidence.

  • Hall v. Elliott, 15 Wn.2d 518 (1942) - (Lack of) authority to enjoin commission action

    Employees of a city eligible to take a promotional civil service examination are not entitled to maintain an action to enjoin the civil service commission from permitting other city employees, claimed to be ineligible, to take the examination; it appearing that there was only a contingent possibility that the plaintiffs' rights would be invaded if the employees claimed to be ineligible were permitted to take the examination.

  • State ex rel. Olson v. Seattle, 7 Wn.2d 379 (1941) - Appointment by examination

    As a general rule, a civil service system provides that appointments are to be made on an examination basis, and that promotions are also to be made on an examination basis; one cannot claim a right to a position simply because he or she is performing the duties which that position entails.

  • State ex rel. Morris v. Seattle, 5 Wn.2d 267 (1940) - Authority to abolish positions for economy

    The city council, in the interest of economy and efficiency, may abolish and consolidate civil service positions; to impose duties on an employee which may embrace not only services of the position for which he holds a civil service rating, but services which, if considered alone, might come within the purview of duties of positions under other civil service classifications. The only limitation upon this power is that it be exercised in good faith.

  • State ex rel. Ashing v. Davis, 4 Wn.2d 454 (1940) - Removal of officer/statement of charges

    Where a city charter provides as a cause for removal of a civil service employee "conduct unbecoming an officer or employee of the city," it is not necessary that a reason be given sufficient to sustain a criminal action; but sufficient notice must be given to enable accused to prepare his defense, and the charges must be made in writing and with sufficient definiteness to inform accused of their character and extent.

  • Watkins v. Seattle, 2 Wn.2d 695 (1940) - Layoffs

    Where city truck drivers with a civil service rating as such were laid off for "lack of funds and lack of work," and the trucks which they had been driving were thereafter operated by men classified as "laborers," the layoffs were wrongful, as the truck drivers were entitled to their positions as long as the trucks were being operated by the city. A civil service employee is entitled to recover compensation for the period of his wrongful separation from his position.

Court of Appeals Decisions

  • Chase v. Spokane Valley Fire Department Civil Service Commission, 139 Wn. App. 143 (2007) - Hearings and due process

    The commission's failure to follow its own rules does not per se violate procedural due process, although it would where the rules represent minimal due process requirements. A full post-termination hearing afforded the officer, who had his employment terminated, an adequate safeguard against erroneous board action.

  • Allstot v. Edwards, 116 Wn. App. 424 (2003) - Seeking action in court

    A public employee who is fired for cause is not required to seek a civil service remedy before seeking redress in court for the claim of wrongful constructive discharge.

  • Spokane and Spokane Police Guild v. Spokane Civil Service Commission, 98 Wn. App. 541 (1999) - Collective bargaining vs. civil service

    Unless a local civil service commission is similar in scope, structure, and authority to the state personnel board---and it would appear that would never be true---that which is bargained during a collective bargaining agreement will prevail over any inconsistent civil service rule. In this particular decision, the civil service rule of one gave way to appointment through an assessment center agreed to during collective bargaining.

  • Teamsters v. Moses Lake, 70 Wn. App. 404 (1993) - Exclusion of officers from coverage

    The exclusion of noncommissioned city police personnel from a city police department civil service system does not substantially accomplish the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW, the police civil service statute.

  • Crippen v. Bellevue, 61 Wn. App. 251 (1991) - Deference to local rules

    A local civil service commission's interpretation of the civil service law is entitled to deference by a court. Under RCW 41.08.100, which sets forth a procedure for filling a fire fighting position vacancy if the appointing power "desires to fill the vacancy," the appointing authority has discretion not to requisition a list of eligible candidates from the civil service commission.

  • Gibson v. Auburn, 50 Wn. App. 661 (1988) - Pretermination hearings

    Officer has right to a pre-termination hearing on discharge, not on "decision to discharge." Pre-termination "hearing" need not be elaborate in order to satisfy the requirements of due process and can be satisfied by an informal conference.

  • Bullo v. Fife, 50 Wn. App. 602 (1988) - Pretermination hearings

    Held that Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985) [requiring pre-termination hearings for civil service employees] should be applied retroactively.

  • Samuels v. Lake Stevens, 50 Wn. App. 475 (1988) - Rules that "substantially accomplish"

    A town may enact its own civil service system. RCW 41.12.010. However, if such local regulations or ordinances are adopted after 1937 and do not substantially accomplish the purpose of RCW 41.12, then the state law applies automatically. Even if a portion of the local regulations do not substantially accomplish the purpose of the state act, the remainder of the ordinance can be enforced as written, including the rule mandating a one-year probationary period. The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of chapter 41.12 RCW. Although it is somewhat longer than the probationary period in RCW 41.12.100, it nevertheless substantially accomplishes the purpose of having a probationary period.

  • Nickerson v. Anacortes, 45 Wn. App. 432 (1986) - Pretermination hearings

    A public employee terminable only for cause is entitled to a pre-termination hearing at which he is given an opportunity to respond to the charges. The hearing may be held before the decision-maker, which in this case was the chief of police.

  • Danielson v. Seattle, 45 Wn. App. 235 (1986) - Court of appeals authority

    A court of appeals is not bound by a superior court's findings of fact when an administrative agency has conducted all of the evidentiary hearings. In such a situation the administrative agency is the exclusive fact-finding body. In addition, a court of appeals is not bound by a superior court's findings of fact that are based on documentary, non-testimonial evidence. In such a situation the court of appeals is as competent as the superior court to weigh and consider the evidence. Washington courts give "great weight" to an administrative agency's construction of a regulation promulgated by that agency.

  • Roberts v. Fire Protection Dist., 44 Wn. App. 744 (1986) - Fire district's ability to establish own system

    Former RCW 52.36.060 permitted, but did not require, a fire district to adopt a civil service system identical to that provided in chapter 41.08 RCW. The district is free to adopt its own system which substantially accomplishes the purposes of chapter 41.08 RCW.

  • Micone v. Civil Service Commission, 44 Wn. App. 636 (1986)

    Discharge of employee/involuntary resignation) A public employee has no vested property right in public employment and possesses no due process rights apart from the protections afforded by statute. A discharge effected by a coerced or involuntary resignation would, per se, not comply with the procedural requirements of RCW 41.12.090 and would be an improper discharge. A finding of involuntary resignation would then entitle the employee to reinstatement and, possibly, back pay. Therefore, the question is also one of the merits. The court held that, because it is also a question of the merits, the determination of the voluntariness of a resignation must be made pursuant to an investigation and hearing as provided for in RCW 41.12.090. Constructive discharge occurs where an employer deliberately makes an employee's working conditions intolerable thereby forcing the employee to resign.

  • McConnell v. Seattle, 44 Wn. App. 316 (1986) - Discharge notification/due process

    A discharge notification to a public employee sufficiently advises him of an appeal deadline if it cites the applicable statute. Such notification need not specifically set forth the reasons for dismissal if the reasons are known by the employee and no prejudice results. A discharged public employee has received constitutional due process when he is given notice of the charge and an explanation of the evidence in support, he is given an adequate opportunity to respond, and he is advised of his right to administrative review.

  • Olson v. Civil Service Commission, 43 Wn. App. 812 (1986) - When probation period begins and ends) Employee entitled to hearing if terminated after probation complete. Probation begins on date of employment and ends (in most instances) six months later.


  • Simonds v. Kennewick, 41 Wn. App. 851 (1985) - What is "arbitrary and capricious"?

    Arbitrary and capricious is defined as willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and in disregard of facts and circumstances. Action is not arbitrary and capricious when exercised honestly and upon due consideration of the facts and circumstances and where there is room for two opinions. Evidence establishes the examination was not impartial as mandated by RCW 41.08.050 and also violated the commission's own rules and regulations. Thus, the commission's conduct was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.

  • Payne v. Mount, 41 Wn. App. 627 (1985) - Nature of pre-termination hearings

    Civil service rules, in general, provide an adequate administrative remedy that must be pursued or review will be barred. The court held in Loudermill that due process requires that public employees receive a pretermination "hearing," but that this hearing need not be elaborate. In contrast to a full adversarial evidentiary hearing, all that is required is notice and an opportunity to respond.

  • Butner v. Pasco, 39 Wn. App. 408 (1985) - Appellate court authority

    Appellate review under RCW 41.12.090 is de novo only in the sense the court independently examines the administrative record, exclusive of the trial court's findings. The court must uphold the commission unless it finds willful and unreasoning action in disregard of the facts and circumstances.

  • Erickson v. Civil Service Commission, 39 Wn. App. 271 (1984) - Civil service commission may reduce---as well as increase-- penalty imposed for disciplinary purposes.


  • Side v. Cheney, 37 Wn. App. 199 (1984) - Appointments/appearance of fairness

    The appearance of fairness doctrine does not apply to the mayor when acting in his appointing capacity. Decision to promote is not a quasi-judicial decision. A test for distinguishing between judicial and non-judicial functions is whether the function performed by the agency is one which the judiciary has historically performed prior to creation of the agency. When commission forwarded the names of the top three candidates to the mayor, the commission certified all three were qualified for the position of sergeant. The mayor has the right, within legal limits, to appoint any one of the three candidates.

  • Pool v. Omak, 36 Wn. App. 844 (1984) - Commission's authority to alter discipline

    RCW 41.12.090, which permits a civil service commission to modify the discipline imposed upon a city police officer, empowers the commission to increase the punishment by imposing a stricter penalty. Such an increase is not, per se, arbitrary and capricious.

  • Greig v. Metzler, 33 Wn. App. 223 (1982) - In addition to misconduct, an employee may be demoted for budgetary reasons, a reduction in force, and for other like causes.



  • Punton v. Seattle Public Safety Commission, 32 Wn. App. 959 (1982) - Discharge

    Permanent civil service employees who can be discharged only for cause possess a property right in continued employment. Due process of law is denied if a police department fails to provide a pretermination hearing according to its regulations.

  • In re Smith, 30 Wn. App. 943 (1982) - Commission's authority in review of dismissal

    Although the civil service commission is vested with discretionary power to determine whether charges brought by the appointing power are sufficient grounds for dismissal, the exercise of this power is confined to the content of those charges; the commission may not use alternative grounds to support its decisions.

  • Nirk v. Kent Civil Serv. Commission, 30 Wn. App. 214 (1981) - Due process requirements

    Failure to swear witnesses appearing before the civil service commission violated the officer's due process rights.

  • Yakima v. Yakima Police, 29 Wn. App. 756 (1981) - Substantially accomplishes

    Local existing civil service commission only "substantially accomplishes" state civil service requirements if it empowers commission with powers granted by state law.

  • Benavides v. Civil Serv. Commission, 26 Wn. App. 531 (1980) - Commission's review authority

    The judiciary will review actions of a civil service commission only to determine if it has acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or contrary to law.

  • Leonard v. Civil Service Commission, 25 Wn. App. 699 (1980) - Reclassification

    Reclassification of civil service positions by a municipal civil service commission is a discretionary function which may be reviewed by the courts to determine if the action taken was legal as well as not arbitrary or capricious.

  • State v. Civil Service Commission, 25 Wn. App. 174 (1980) - Probationary periods/right of appeal

    The purpose of providing a probationary period within a civil service system is to give an appointing official an opportunity to determine whether the probationer is efficient and competent and to discharge unqualified employees before their employment becomes permanent. A general right of appeal granted to discharged employees will be construed to apply only to permanent employees so as to preserve the purpose and intent of the probationary provision. There is no constitutional property interest in public employment.

  • Hall v. Seattle, 24 Wn. App. 357 (1979) - Reconsideration of decision

    The commission, if it determines it may have made a mistake and misperceived facts, may reconsider its decision, provided its actions are not arbitrary and capricious. Prompt notice should be given to all the parties of the new hearing.

  • Casebere v. Civil Service Commission, 21 Wn. App. 73 (1978) - Standing to challenge


    Employee who is not qualified for position sought lacks standing to challenge test results. While citizen may ask commission to investigate problem, appeal to court requires appellant to have standing. Civil service examinees have a fundamental right to have the civil service commission follow its statutes, rules, and regulations. If this fundamental right is not forthcoming, the examinee may invoke the inherent review power of the courts even as to nonjudicial administrative actions. Civil service commission must follow its rules and regulations; failure to so provides grounds for invalidating a civil service examination.


  • Dulmage v. Seattle, 19 Wn. App. 932 (1978) - Court's review of commission decisions

    The courts will only review the actions of the civil service commission to determine if its conclusions may be said to be, "as a matter of law, arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law."

  • Arbogast v. Westport, 18 Wn. App. 4 (1977) - Probation period/substantially accomplish

    The purpose of having a probationary period in civil service employment is to give appointing officials an opportunity to assess the efficiency and competency of employees. A city's establishment of a one-year probationary period for its police employees in light of widely fluctuating job demands at different times of the year may "substantially accomplish" the same purpose as the shorter probationary period specified by the state statute relating to such employees (RCW 41.12.100) and thus, under RCW 41.12.010, will be given effect in place of the state probationary period.

  • Higgins v. Salewsky, 17 Wn. App. 207 (1977) - Implementation of civil service

    The court invalidated fire captain's exam, finding that the city had not implemented civil service, thus the civil service commissioners could not hold office, and examination they gave was therefore invalid.

  • Bjorseth v. Seattle, 15 Wn. App. 797 (1976) - Residency

    RCW 35.21.200 prohibits use of nonresidency as a ground for both discharge and layoff of a city or town civil service employee.

  • McCabe v. Spokane Civil Service, 14 Wn. App. 864 (1976) - Calculation of seniority

    Any leave time granted during the first six months of an employee's probationary period cannot be included in computing that employee's seniority.

  • O'Brien v. Civil Serv. Commission, 14 Wn. App. 760 (1976) - Eligibility lists

    Civil service commission has broad discretion to determine whether examinations to fill the "eligible lists for the various classes of positions" (RCW 41.14.060(6)) in the Department of Public Safety shall be open to qualified citizens or limited to persons already in the service.

  • Deering v. Seattle, 10 Wn. App. 832 (1974) - Notice requirements

    Fundamental right to "notice" requires the commission limit its investigation to the "reasons" given for employment action. To be constitutionally adequate, notice should be reasonably calculated to inform as to the nature and substance of the charges.

  • Helland v. King Cty. Civil Serv., 10 Wn. App. 683 (1974) - Court's authority on appeal

    Appeal of commission's decision to superior court is limited to determining whether or not commission's actions were, as a matter of law, arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law; the court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the commission.

  • Massie v. Brown, 9 Wn. App. 601 (1973)- Commission's authority

    The commission lacked authority to place warrant server, part of municipal court, under control of commission.

  • Pleuss v. Seattle, 8 Wn. App. 133 (1972) - Appeal requirements/timeliness

    Failure to seek appeal within required limit precludes appeal to superior court. Resignation after discussion with attorney was voluntary.

  • Fridell v. Seattle Civil Service Commission, 4 Wn. App. 227 (1971) - Standing to contest appointment

    The court held that persons who are not entitled to or qualified for a particular civil service position do not have standing to contest appointment of a qualified person to fill the vacancy.

  • Wenatchee v. Berg, 1 Wn. App. 354 (1969) - Court's authority on appeal

    Holds that court reviewing decision of civil service commission is limited to determining whether removal of officer was made in good faith and for cause and without an abuse of discretion.

Attorney General Opinions

  • AGO 1991 No. 27 - RCW 41.14.260 provides that a city police officer transferring to a county sheriff's office pursuant to RCW 41.14.250 shall have the same rights, benefits and privileges as the officer would have been entitled to if the officer had been a member of the sheriff's office since the beginning of the officer's employment with the city. Pursuant to this statute, the officer's seniority is determined by the date of the officer's original hire with the city.
  • AGO 1989 No. 20 - Because of RCW 41.08.040 and RCW 41.12.040, the secretary/chief examiner of a civil service commission created under chapter 41.08 or chapter 41.12 RCW must be either an existing employee of the city or a city resident; these provisions were left undisturbed when the current versions of RCW 41.08.075 and 41.12.075 were enacted.
  • AGO 1986 No. 13 - A city civil service system for city police provided by charter does not substantially accomplish the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW if it does not provide for any appeal in the case of an employee suspended for less than five days.
  • AGO 1986 No. 9 - A police civil service commission does not have statutory authority under chapter 41.12 RCW to investigate allegations of misconduct in the performance of police duties made by a citizen against an individual police officer.
  • AGO 1972 No. 12 - A county civil service commission for sheriff's office employees, organized and operating under the provisions of chapter 41.14 RCW, may not promulgate a blanket regulation excluding persons otherwise qualified under RCW 41.14.100 from making application for any civil service position in a sheriff's department, regardless of its duties, on the basis of their being less than twenty-one years of age and thus not legally able to enter a tavern for law enforcement purposes; however, in those selected classes of positions which require the employee to enter taverns for these purposes, a requirement that the applicant be at least twenty-one years of age, and thus legally able to enter a tavern, would be valid.
  • AGO 1968 No. 16 - (1) A fire protection district which has both full time, paid firemen and volunteer firemen in its fire service may provide civil service coverage for its full time, paid firemen under the provisions of RCW 52.36.060. (2) A fire protection district which determines to provide civil service coverage for its full time, paid firemen under RCW 52.36.060, is thereby governed by all the provisions of chapter 41.08 RCW to the same extent as a city or town. (3) Members of a board of fire commissioners of a fire protection district which establishes a civil service system for its full time paid firemen under RCW 52.36.060 may not simultaneously serve as members of the civil service commission.
  • AGO 63-64 No. 36 - Chapter 95, Laws of 1963, does not authorize a city by ordinance, or its civil service commission by rule, to require a fireman or policeman to maintain residence within the city as a condition of employment.
  • AGO 59-60 No. 28 - (1) The sheriff as appointing authority who dismisses a probationer is not required to notify the civil service commission of the basis for the dismissal. (2) A probationer who has been dismissed does not have the right to have his dismissal reviewed by the civil service commission.
  • AGO 55-57 No. 293 - Officers who were appointed on July 8, 1937, were "blanketed" into civil service as permanent employees in the positions they then presently enjoyed.
  • AGO 53-55 No. 245 - City manager appoints the police chief under a council-manager form of government, subject to statutory procedure set forth in RCW 41.12.010 et seq.

Civil Service Rules

The following sample rules are taken from a range of smaller (e.g., Grand Coulee) and larger (e.g., Spokane) cities. While some of the rules are approximately 10 years old, they still present good representations of local rules. Few events require amendment of rules once they have been adopted.

The following are excellent resources and have undoubtedly served as the basis for the rules of many jurisdictions. The date of the documents is not a deterrent to their usefulness, as, for the most part, the basic law associated with civil service is unchanged.

Additional References

Last Modified: March 09, 2015