A Jefferson County lawmaker thinks too many public employees are getting paid for not working because they’ve been put on administrative leave.
When questions are raised about an employee’s job performance, they are often taken off their regular job and placed on leave — with pay — while their bosses try to determine if the complaint is valid.
“This did start in my district, with a superintendent,” Rep. Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, told the Senate’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “It opened my eyes to a bigger problem that we have, not just nationally, but within our own state.
“The federal government from 2012-14 put over 130,000 employees on paid administrative leave to the tune for taxpayers of $775 million.
“The state of Missouri, in that same time period, had over 24,000 employees on paid administrative leave, costing taxpayers in the state … over $10.2 million.”
The House passed Vescovo’s bill on March 7, by a 103-47 margin.
“It states that if an employer places an employee on administrative leave, a hearing shall be held within 60 days from the date the employee was placed on such leave, to determine if the employee engaged in misconduct,” he said. “I’m just trying to bring some accountability to paid administrative leave.”
He said he’s heard from “teachers, police officers — many people have come out and said, ‘Thank you for addressing this issue because I sat on paid administrative leave for 13 months and never got a hearing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be fired, if I had a job the next day, (and I was) sitting on eggshells.’”
No one testified for the bill, but several argued against its current form.
Lobbyist Scott Kimble, representing the Missouri Association of School Administrators, reminded the senators the bill includes an exception to the 60-day hearing requirement for good cause, allowing a 180-day requirement instead.
Still, he said, “The bill attempts to place a cap, in our opinion, on investigations.
“There are times when the 60-day requirement — or even the 180 day requirement — will not suffice.”
There are times, he noted, when school districts will launch an investigation on a personnel question only to have law enforcement agencies ask them to stop.
In a previous job, he said, “I worked on an issue where a teacher (was accused of having) sexually violated a student.
“We began a process to terminate that individual, but law enforcement approached the district and asked — as it regularly does — to stand-down the internal investigation so that law enforcement could conduct its own investigation, and we don’t ruin their proceedings.”
However, Kimble noted, law enforcement investigations — and those done by the Social Services department in child abuse cases — often can take longer than 60 or 180 days.
School districts have a good reason to wait, he said, so “we don’t tamper with evidence or have issues with prior, inconsistent statements. … We don’t want to harm the criminal investigation, which we believe to be more important than the district’s personnel investigation.”
However, if Vescovo’s proposal becomes law in its present form, Kimble said, school districts and other public agencies would be violating the law while cooperating with criminal investigators.
Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay told the committee the proposed law could interfere with existing law that controls how sheriffs handle paid leave.
“There is already a very well established process” for sheriffs to file when there are job-related actions a sheriff may want to take against a deputy or other employee, he said.
“Deputy sheriffs are at-will employees,” he added, and the existing law requires a deputy to appeal a job action within three days. A hearing must then follow within 30 days.
“Most of us don’t have (budget) room for paid administrative leave,” DeLay said. “I would guess most are done within 30 days.”
Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole told the committee DeLay “pretty much outlined” the sheriffs’ concerns statewide.
Vescovo told the senators the sheriffs’ timeline “fits within this bill.”
Otto Fajen, of Missouri NEA, added: “We (also) have concerns about a hearing process before an investigation is finished.”
Vescovo said it’s been hard to get accurate numbers from Missouri’s Office of Administration “from the very beginning … on what some of these employees were doing — whether they were going to work. My understanding is a majority of these are not — they are at home.”
He is “open to some language change. I’ve been open from the very beginning to make this a good bill for all parties.”
Vescovo said his proposed law is “just trying to show the taxpayers that we don’t have employees who are just sitting at home being paid not to work. We can’t do that in the private sector.
“Why should we be able to do it in the public sector?”