A state employee with the Department of Developmental Services was placed on paid administrative leave for 69 weeks pending an investigation and collected $81,500 during that time, according to a report from state auditors.
Although this employee was on leave, he or she was still eligible to receive a cost of living adjustment and an annual raise, according to the report.
Lengthy periods of paid leave was not limited to that one instance, however. An additional 26 employees were on paid administrative leave for between 490 hours to 1,568 hours, which would translate into 39 weeks working full-time.
The auditors noted that this was a violation of state statute which limits paid leave to 15 days to investigate charges that could lead to dismissal. In some cases the paid leave of absence can be extended to 60 days if criminal charges are pending and permission is granted by the Commissioner of Administrative Services.
However, DDS pointed to provisions in state employee contracts which supersede state law and allow for this practice.
“The majority of the agency’s employees belong to the 1199 and P3B unions, therefore it is recognized that in some instances of investigations into employee belonging to these bargaining units, an investigation may require more time to complete due to the nature of the work, as those respective contracts note.”
The agency also said that because an investigation may involve multiple different agencies the investigation could take much longer than outlined by either state statute or the employee contracts.
The provisions outlined by the agency do not appear on their face to allow for such extensive periods of paid leave.
In response to the audit, DDS quoted from the SEIU 1199 contract, “in cases where the appointing authority determines it to be in the best interests of the state to place an employee on administrative leave of absence while the determination concerning employee discipline is being decided, such leave of absence shall be with pay and shall not exceed two months.”
DDS notes that the involvement of the police or the Department of Children and Families take precedence over an internal investigation. Therefore the agency must wait until those separate investigations are concluded before mounting its own inquiry into the allegations.
This is not the first time that extended and well-paid leaves of absence have caused problems. A previous report by the auditors outlined numerous instances of paid leave in excess of $100,000, largely paid by the University of Connecticut.
State employee contracts often contain supersedence appendices which change or modify state law to meet the terms of the contract. When the contract is passed into law – usually without a vote in the state legislature – it essentially overrides state law.
The audit also found 76 investigations by the DDS, DCF, Department of Public Health and private providers extend back as far as the 1990s and involve “financial exploitation, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse.”
Because of the delay in concluding an investigation a potentially dangerous person may be able to seek employment elsewhere because they would not be placed on the Abuse and Neglect Registry. These investigation are supposed to conclude within 90 days.
The DDS says that it has taken steps to improve communication and has made strides in reducing the number of outstanding investigations. According to the agency, as of June 2016 the number of outstanding cases older than 90 days was reduced to 20 for the state agency and 34 for private providers.
DDS did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.