In “State workers’ unused paid time means big payouts,” Marisa Lagos reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that while California has been facing a financial crisis with record deficits and high unemployment, many state government employees are receiving half-million dollar payments for amassed sick days upon leaving or retirement:
One public employee received a $594,976 lump-sum payment from the state when he retired last year; another got $553,253. The two—a surgeon and a dentist who provided care to prison inmates—topped the list of some 300 state employees who left or retired from their state jobs in 2010 and collected six-figure payments for unused vacation and other paid time off accumulated during their careers, according to records obtained from the state controller’s office.
The records reflect a widespread failure by the state to control the amount of paid time off that employees amass.
State policy caps the number of vacation hours an employee is allowed to bank at 640 hours—or 16 weeks—and sometimes higher for public safety workers. But many agencies do not enforce the limits.
Controller’s data shows that in 2010, California paid $293 million in lump sum payments to 20,048 state workers who retired or left. But while some checks were as low as 41 cents, others were for hundreds of thousands of dollars—reflecting months upon months, or in some cases years, of banked leave.
In 2010, the top 100 people to collect six figure payments accounted for nearly $20 million alone. Among them were a highway patrol sergeant in Los Angeles County who collected $208,772, a parole agent in Santa Clara County who got $268,990, and a prison psychiatrist in Solano County who received $262,535.
Critics say the numbers should be a wake-up call for state leaders who need to do a better job managing employee work hours.
“It is shocking but not surprising,” said David Kline, a vice president at the California Taxpayers Association. “We’ve seen so many examples of bad management decisions that cost state taxpayers millions of dollars. ... In the private sector, business owners set standards as far as how much vacation time an employee can accrue and they stick to those standards.”
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Jason Sisney, director of state finance at the Legislative Analyst Office, said the banked time has grown in recent years. According to the state auditor’s office, workers had $1.9 billion worth of paid leave banked in 2006-07. Today, it’s a $3.5 billion liability.
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Many of the workers who received the largest payouts are employed in 24-hour-a-day, seven day- a-week operations, such as the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Highway Patrol and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. . . .