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AGO 1991 No. 27 - July 25, 1991
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- CIVIL SERVICE ‑- SHERIFF ‑- POLICE ‑- Seniority status of city police officer transferring to county sheriff's office

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.

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                                                                    July 25, 1991

Honorable Michael J. Sullivan
Pacific County Prosecuting Attorney
Post Office Box 45
South Bend, Washington 98586
                                                                                                                  Cite as:  AG0 1991 No. 27

Dear Mr. Sullivan:

            You have requested our opinion on the effect of certain provisions of RCW 41.14, Civil Service for Sheriff's Office.  We paraphrase your question:

            When a city or town police officer transfers employment to the county sheriff's office pursuant to RCW 41.14.250-[41.14].290, is the officer's seniority status within the county civil service system determined by date of original hire with the city or town, or by the date of transfer of employment to the county sheriff's office?

                                                                BRIEF ANSWER

            The seniority status of a city or town police officer transferring employment to the county sheriff's office pursuant to RCW 41.14.250-.290 is determined by the date of original hire with the city or town.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            To analyze your question, we must examine RCW 41.14.250, [41.14].260, and [41.14].270.

            RCW 41.14.250 provides:

                        When any city or town shall contract with the county sheriff's office to obtain law enforcement services to the city or town, any employee of the police department of such city or town who (1) was at the time such contract was entered into employed exclusively or principally in performing the powers, duties, and functions which are to be performed by the county sheriff's office under such contact (2) will, as a direct consequence of such contract, be separated from the employ of the city or town, and (3) meets the minimum standards and qualifications of the county sheriff's office, then such employee may transfer his employment to the county sheriff's office as provided for in RCW 41.14.260 and .270.

            RCW 41.14.260 provides that upon transferring pursuant to RCW 41.14.250

            [t]he employee so transferring will (1) be on probation for the same period as are new employees of the sheriff's office, (2) be eligible for promotion after completion of the probationary period as completed, (3) receive a salary at least equal to that of other new employees of the sheriff's office, and(4) in all other matters, such as retirement, vacation, etc., have, within the county civil service system, all the rights, benefits, and privileges that he would have been entitled to had he been a member of the county sheriff's office from the beginning of his employment with the city or town police departmentThe city or town shall, upon receipt of such notice, transmit to the county civil service commission a record of the employee's service with the city or town which shall be credited to such member as a part of his period of employment in the county sheriff's office.  The sheriff may appoint the transferring employee to whatever duties he feels are in the best interest of the department and the individual.

(Emphasis added.)  RCW 41.14.260(1).

            RCW 41.14.270 provides for notice to affected employees and prescribes time limits on requests for transfer.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3][Orig. Op. Page 

            You ask whether seniority status is a matter "such as retirement, vacation, etc." such that the transferring officer retains seniority as a right, benefit, or privilege after transferring under RCW 41.14.260.  We presume this issue arises because the Civil Service Rules of Pacific County grant certain advantages to employees based on length of service, such as service credit in promotional examinations (Sections 8.12 and 9.01); order of reinstatement in filling vacancies (Section 10.03), and order of layoff (Section 14).

            From the language of RCW 41.14.260(1), it is evident that the Legislature considered whether to impose conditions and qualifications on the transfer of employment and did not provide for transfer free of conditions or qualifications.  The Legislature placed three conditions on such a transfer.  The employee transferring:

            (1) is subject to a probationary period as is a new employee;

(2) is eligible for promotion only after probation; and

(3) will receive a salary at least equal to other new employees.

            However, in "all other matters", the employee is to have, within the county system,  "all the rights, benefits, and privileges" that he otherwise would have been entitled to.  The broad phrasing of the provisions "all other matters" and "all the rights, benefits, and privileges," as well as the use of the word "etc." in conjunction with "retirement" and "vacation" indicates to us the Legislature's intent that other entitlements remain intact.  RCW 41.14.260(1).

            Words used in a statute are to be given their ordinary meanings unless the Legislature provides otherwise.  Davis v. Department of Empl. Sec., 108 Wn.2d 272, 737 P.2d 1262 (1987).  Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1966) contains the following definitions of the nouns "right," "benefit" and "privilege."  The word "right," when used in a similar context, ordinarily means

            something to which one has a just claim:  as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled . . . b: a power, privilege, or condition of existence to which one has a natural claim of enjoyment or possession . . . c: a power, privilege, or immunity vested in one . . . d (1): a power or privilege vested in a person by the law to demand action or forbearance at the hands of another : a legally enforceable claim  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] against another that the other will do or will not do a given act : a capacity or privilege the enjoyment of which is secured to a person by law . . . (2): a claim recognized and delimited by law for the purpose of securing it (3):  the aggregate of the capacities, powers, liberties, the privileges by which a claim is secured (4):  the capacity to assert a legally recognized claim . . . .

Webster's Third New International Dictionary1955 (1966).  The word "benefit," when used in a similar context, ordinarily means

            PAYMENT, GIFT:  as a: financial help in time of sickness, old age, or unemployment . . . c: a cash payment or service provided for under an annuity, pension plan, or insurance policy . . . 

Id.at 204.  The word "privilege," when used in a similar context, ordinarily means

            1a:        a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor:  special enjoyment of good or exemption from an evil or burden:  a peculiar or personal advantage or right esp. when enjoyed in derogation of common right:  PREROGATIVE b:  such right or immunity attaching specif. to a position or an office . . . .

Id.at 1805.

            To the extent that seniority confers any improvement, advantage, immunity, or favor, it is encompassed within the "rights, benefits, and privileges" the transferring officer is to retain upon transfer to the county civil service system.

            This interpretation also gives meaning and purpose to the later provision in RCW 41.14.260(1) which provides in part:

            The city or town shall, [upon receiving notice of transfer] transmit to the county civil service commission a record of the employee's service with the city or town which (shall be credited to such member as a part of his period of employment in the county sheriff's office.

            An examination of the legislative history of RCW 41.14.260 reveals that the conditions placed on the transfer of the employee were the result of concern that the county be assured the transferring employee meets minimum county qualifications for employment within the sheriff's office.  RCW 41.14.250-[41.14].290 was  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] introduced in the Legislature as House Bill 5.  As originally drafted, RCW 41.14.260 did not impose conditions on the transferring officer.  It provided in part:

                        Sec. 2.  There is added to chapter 41.14 RCW a new section to read as follows:

                        (1)  An eligible employee may transfer into the county civil service system for the sheriff's office by filing a written request with the county civil service commission and by giving written notice thereof to the legislative authority of the city or town.  Upon receipt of such request by the civil service commission the transfer of employment shall be made and the employee so transferring shall have, within the county civil service system, all the rights, benefits, and privileges that he would have been entitled to had he been a member of the county sheriff's office from the beginning of his employment with the city or town police department  ...

House Bill 5, §2(1).  State of Washington Printed Bills of the Legislature, 42nd Session, House, 1-150 (1972).  The bill was amended in the House to add the language under scored below to section 2:

                        An eligible employee may transfer into the county civil service system for the sheriff's office by filing a written request with the county civil service commission and by giving written notice thereof to the legislative authority of the city or town.  Upon receipt of such request by the civil service commission the transfer of employment shall be made.  The employee so transferring will (1) be on probation for the same period as are new employees of the sheriff's office, (2) be eligible for promotion after completion of the probationary period as completed, (3) receive a salary at least equal to that of other new employees of the sheriff's office, and (4) in all matters, such as retirement, vacation, etc., have, within the county civil service system, all the rights, benefits, and privileges that he would have been entitled to had he been a member of the county sheriff's office from the beginning of his employment with the city or town police department.

House Journal, 42nd Legislature (1972) at 338-9.

            From this history, it appears to us that once a transferring officer demonstrates minimum county qualifications, his or her  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] employment status is to reflect all the privileges, including seniority, to which he or she would be entitled had the county employment dated from the beginning of the officer's employment with the city or town.

            We trust this assists you.

Very truly yours,

KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

NANCY THYGESEN DAY
Assistant Attorney General

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