In the World of Exempt, One Day You’re In, The Next Day You’re Out

Recently we reported on three Local 21 members being walked off the job after 10 years of service, for no reason. Why? Because they were exempt employees.

While some exempt positions are crucial to the City and County of San Francisco, employees frequently do not understand what they are giving up by accepting an exempt position.  Employees have a number of misconceptions about exempt positions. Make sure to read the facts below!


Myth: If I am in a Permanent Civil Service (PCS) position, I can get bumped from my position at any time. But if I become exempt, I will be protected and have better job security.

Fact: Bumping only occurs during a layoff situation and is very rare. In contrast, exempt positions have no protection from job loss due to any number of issues at any time. You are much more vulnerable as an exempt employee than as a PCS employee.

Myth: Being exempt means more seniority.

Fact: You have no seniority as an exempt employee and have no protections against termination. Because your employer doesn’t have to justify your termination, you may be one of the first targets in a layoff.

Myth: You must leave your PCS position in order to take an exempt position.

Fact: It may be possible to take a leave of absence from your PCS position and maintain your rights to it when moving to an exempt position. This is the safest course of action when taking an exempt position, and is worth trying. 

Myth: When you leave your PCS position for an exempt position, you retain rights to it automatically.

Fact: It’s more complicated than that. You have the right to work with DHR to move back into a position comparable to your previous PCS position, but it may not be back in the same office, department, or even area. Potentially, there may even be no positions vacant when you want to come back.

Myth: You are guaranteed your exempt position for the duration the position was listed for.

Fact: Your exempt offer was not an employment contract and you can be terminated at any time for any reason, including if the project is defunded or ends early.

Myth: Getting an exempt position is a promotion.

Fact: While it is frequently represented as a promotion by management, that’s a misrepresentation. Exempt positions are not supposed to be used as a vehicle for promotion. And while sometimes these positions are in a higher class, they always trade job security and peace of mind.


Other Exempt Concerns to Keep in Mind:

  • Exempt category 18 positions are frequently NOT being used for temporary projects- instead many exempt members are doing work that is ongoing and violates the intent of the rule.

  • Exempt positions bypass Civil Service rules, which are meant to protect against nepotism, favoritism, and discrimination and instead select the most qualified candidates for the job. In many places, that has resulted in a more diverse group of workers than in comparable jobs in the private sector.

  • If you take an exempt position and then receive a PCS position, you still have to serve probation without getting credit for previous work as an exempt.

  • Exempt jobs undercut union power by removing job protections.

What Should You Do if You Are an Exempt Worker or Are Offered an Exempt Position?

  • Get educated about what exempt means and weigh the pros and cons carefully.

  • Stay on permanent civil service eligibility lists through testing so that you can move to an appropriate PCS position as the opportunity arises.

  • If you are already in a PCS position and are moving to an exempt position, always request a leave of absence before resigning your position. While your department must agree and you may be denied, it’s worth the attempt. And if you do get a leave of absence and the leave of absence doesn’t cover the term of your whole appointment, make sure you reapply in a timely fashion.

  • Advocate and organize. There are examples of L21 members putting pressure on their employer to convert their exempt positions to PCS by standing together and organizing solidarity around the issue.