Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Residency Requirements for Public Sector Workers

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Thomas E. Poulin
November 27, 2023

Occasionally, we hear debates concerning residency requirements for public sector workers. Many argue public employees should reside within the community to be effective. There are potential pros and cons to residency requirements which must be considered in these debates.

The Pros of Residency Requirements

There are three fundamental arguments favoring residency requirements. There is the belief employees will be more loyal, committed and effective in their performance if they are fully invested within the community by living there. There is the argument communities make better use of their tax dollars by requiring employee residency within the community. The presumption is tax monies will be redirected back into the community by employees residing there spending their salaries within the community. Lastly, there is a desire to reduce unemployment within the community, which might be addressed by either limiting applications for employment to current residents of the community or to those promising to move into the community within a specified time after being hired. These arguments tend to be untested and aspirational rather than being founded upon data, but they are often persuasive to decision makers and factions within the community.

The Cons of Residency Requirements

Professionalism: One argument against residency requirements is based on the professionalism of public sector employees. Research and experience have shown those with a dedication to their profession are committed to performing at high levels. Professional pride prevents any other outcome, though performance quantity and quality might easily be affected by factors such as poor management, ineffective leadership, resource limitations or generally poor working conditions.

Limitations on the Hiring Pool: To achieve excellence, public sector agencies seek to employ the most talented workforce available. Limiting applications to those already residing in the community, or to those promising residency within a set time, limits the potential hiring pool. While this might not be an issue in a major city or populated, urbanized county, it might be a serious concern in suburban and rural areas. It would be imprudent to insist upon residency if needed talent would be available save for this specific requirement. It is prudent to insist potential employees will relocate or live within a reasonable commuting distance to ensure they can and will be at work on time, but this does not necessarily require they reside in a specified location.

Employee Retention: Those entering public service do so for myriad reasons. Over time their personal needs, expectations and motivations evolve. This suggests that even if an employee finds one community to be their “perfect” choice at one stage in their journey of life, this might not always be the case. Over time, they may wish to relocate, still close enough to easily commute, but not necessarily within the community which employs them. Residency requirements might contribute to employee demotivation, affecting work performance, or a situation where talent leaves the agency to find a similar job with similar benefits, but fewer restrictions on their personal lives.

Community versus Jurisdiction: Another weakness of the residency requirement presumes the community ends at jurisdictional lines. It presumes no interaction, with each jurisdiction being a closed system. The reality is formal jurisdictional lines on a map do not mirror community lines. Community is more complex. The landscape between the District and Columbia and Baltimore includes 5 counties and over 200 cities, towns and census-designated communities. The Los Angeles region is comprised of 5 counties and over 1,600 local governments. The lives of individuals do not end on political lines. Their lives are a complex fabric of social, personal and economic activities interwoven with the lives of others in their region. In a very real sense, what is better for one community is likely to be better for all communities. Restricting employment to only those within a specific political jurisdiction might be a short-sighted decision.

Legal Challenges: Mandating residency requirements for current employees will be challenged in the courts. Attempting to mandate relocation for current employees will likely lead to federal court challenges on the constitutional rights of due process (14th amendment) and possibly the rights of association (1st amendment). Current employees will raise personal concerns related to the impact on themselves and their families being forced to relocate. Because of this, many communities enacting a residency requirement exempt current employees, but make future residency a pre-condition of employment. As this would be an agreement freely entered into by the employee candidate, it would be enforceable. However, this creates two distinct classes of employees, which might contribute to tensions within the agency between those with differing levels of personal freedom outside the workplace.


In the end, there is no clear right or wrong. Each community must have such a debate on their own. Communities may succeed with or without a residency requirement, but they might also fail. There are many factors at play. Public administrators engaged in such a debate must find a workable solution for their community, but they must consider the pros and cons of each approach.

Author: Thomas E. Poulin, PhD, is a training and development consultant and independent scholar. He is Past President of the Hampton Roads Chapter of ASPA. Prior to this, he served over 30 years in local government and 19 years teaching public administration and related topics. He may be reached at [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *