State agency letting workers take excessive paid leave, auditors find

BY Eric Bedner | Journal Inquirer

Dozens of Connecticut Department of Developmental Services employees have been on administrative leave with pay for excessive periods of time, including one who has been on leave since 2014 and been paid more than $81,500, according to a state auditor's report.

State law permits DDS to place an employee on a leave of absence with pay for up to 15 days to permit an investigation of serious misconduct.

It also permits the agency to place an employee on leave with pay for up to 30 days, which may be extended an additional 30 days upon request of the agency and approval of the commissioner of Department of Administrative Services.

Under these personnel regulations, an employee can be placed on leave with pay for no more than 120 hours if criminal charges aren't warranted, or up to 480 hours if they are.

As of March 14, 2016, 27 DDS employees had been on administrative leave with pay for more than 480 hours, according to the report.

One unnamed employee has been on paid leave since August 2014, for a total of 2,758 hours, according to the report.

At an average pay of $29.58 per hour, DDS has paid more than $81,500 to the employee since 2014, the auditors said.

The remaining 26 employees have been on paid leave for hours ranging from 490 to 1,568 hours, or between about $14,494 and $46,381.

An additional 55 DDS employees have been out for more than 120 hours, ranging from 122 to 471 hours, or between roughly $3,600 and nearly $14,000.

"Personnel regulations are not being followed," the auditors said in a report released Wednesday. "These employees should not be out on leave with pay for excessive periods."

Furthermore, the auditors said they could not determine a cause for the excessive leaves.

Responding to the report, DDS officials agreed with part of the auditors' conclusion, but presented some "mitigating circumstances."

"In review of specific leaves cited, there are some instances where the department agrees with the findings of non-compliance," DDS officials said, adding that there are exceptions in which the agency is not able to follow the law.

For instance, the collective bargaining agreements in some cases have provisions that supersede state personnel regulations, DDS officials said.

One such example is with the education professionals union P3B, whose agreement permits an employee to be placed on paid leave for up to 60 days to conduct an investigation.

"The paid leave under this section may be extended for the period of the pre-discipline procedure and the discipline notice period," DDS told the auditors.

Additionally, DDS said, there frequently are outside investigators over which the agency has no authority.

These include investigations conducted by the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Children and Families, as well as state or local police.

Many times, DDS officials said, the agency is unable to conduct a simultaneous investigation, and the internal investigation is "secondary" to that of the outside entities.

"Therefore, actions predicated on the outcome of an internal investigation cannot occur," DDS told the auditors.

DDS officials agreed, however, that the agency should address situations when collective bargaining agreements and outside investigations are not present.

"The department will work with individuals responsible for the investigations toward more timely outcomes where possible," DDS told the auditors.

This is the most recent example of state employees being overpaid.

In February, the state's annual audit report showed that the University of Connecticut made hush-money payments to multiple former employees to avoid litigation and prevent them from speaking negatively about the university.

Numerous former UConn employees agreed to either retire or resign on a specific date, but continued to receive their normal salaries and benefits for roughly six months after they stopped working.

Although the language of separation agreements continued to evolve to provide more protection for the university, they contained many of the same clauses. These included that the departing employee would not sue or disparage the university, and that the agreement represented a full and final settlement of all past and future claims, including those covered under a variety of equal employment laws.

One case involved a professor in-residence who disputed charges that he had violated the university's policies prohibiting discriminatory harassment.

To avoid the expense of mediation, the university allowed him to resign and be paid in lump sum his normal salary through the duration of his contract.

At the time, the professor's annual salary, including benefits, was about $215,000.

The university entered into numerous similar agreements with employees departing for reasons not related to job performance. Those agreements cost state taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per employee, with some exceeding $100,000.