Paying the piper: Excess leave is a hot potato

Aug 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Furloughs & Layoffs, PERS, Retirement, Spotlight

Why cash in excess time upon retirement, paying additional income tax in the bargain, when you can stay at home and get full pay?

Accumulated state worker leave prompted California’s park scandal

Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee

What started as a quiet scheme to draw down excessive leave hours built up by state parks managers quickly spread, first to hardship cases and then to the rank and file, according to recently released state investigative documents.

The leave scandal led to a larger revelation that the state Department of Parks and Recreation hid millions of dollars even while threatening to close parks and forgoing maintenance at its 278 facilities. The news brought down Director Ruth Coleman and has handed opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative plenty of campaign fodder.

But it’s possible none of that would have happened if parks employees hadn’t accumulated so much leave time in the first place…

California state government caps accumulated employee leave at 640 hours, or 16 40-hour weeks. It’s one of the most generous leave-banking policies of any state in the nation. Once accrued, hours cannot be taken away, even if over the cap…

Data analyzed by The Bee two years ago showed that state workers had 75.5 million hours on the books by mid-2010. Each of the 176,000 state workers whose leave data are tracked by the state controller’s office averaged 11 weeks of paid time off with a cash value of $15,655.

Workers say they can find it difficult to take all the time off they’re owed and still get their work done…(Full text at Sacramento Bee)

Long before furloughs came to fruition, correctional peace officers were racking up “excess” leave credits due to the state’s refusal to fund adequate vacation and holiday relief positions — Governor Schwarzenegger’s furlough program exacerbated an already huge unfunded liability.   Now, as more CPO’s are opting to retire at 50, CDCR is paying the price not in cash outs but pre-retirement burns.

3 of Paco’s close friends are representative of the phenomenon. Each has already received an effective retirement date from CalPERS but remain on the payroll as furlough credits, accrued holiday time and vacation leave are “burned.”   In one case, it won’t be until February of 2013 before the employee actually draws a retirement check.  In the interim, CDCR is prohibited from filling these positions–Posts and caseloads must be “taken out of hide” in the form of overtime, “internal coverage” or by remaining vacant.

While Paco has no data to ascertain the numbers, it is clear a relatively small percentage of these pre-retired employees can throw a monkey wrench into the gears of an already lethargic agency. How many unfilled vacancies, over and above the planned, semi-permanent variety, can CDCR sustain? Once the cookie cutter, one size fits all staffing scheme is in full swing, how will those vacancies affect operations and security?

The DPA has long been aware of the looming problem excess leave presents–The state can’t afford buy outs and, at the same time, can’t function with a substantial percentage of its employees burning months or years of accrued leave awaiting retirement.

It’s time to pay the piper…to stay home. –

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5 Comments to “Paying the piper: Excess leave is a hot potato”

  1. Our2Cents says:

    It seems to me that CDCr alone could bankrupt the state, between payouts for time on the books and OT to cover behind those who are burning time rather than cashing it out… A whoooole lotta people came on board circa 1987; they’ve got their 25 years in and the department is certainly doing NOTHING to encourage them to hang in through this little “rough patch.” If they all bail, how will the department handle it?

  2. kl2008a says:

    I know of a case where the employee had almost 2 years of accumulated leave credits (sick, vacation, holiday, extra, etc) before going out on worker’s comp. The person drew a full check and eachmonth the leave credits continued to increase. Just before the person’s time ran out, worker’s comp picked up the case (wherein the person got back 2/3rd of all the time they burned along with an amended W2 that reaped another 5G’s in overpaid taxes). So basically, this person was off for roughly 3.25 years BEFORE drawing their retirement check.

  3. Bob Walsh says:

    My last month pay check just before I retired seven years ago was just a tad over $100,000, consisting largely of unused PL time and vacation time. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it. It is your property, the state owes you for it. That isn’t on the employee, it is on the agency or local work site.

  4. 1990 says:

    Shit at my joint its almost impossible to get any hoilday or stand by vacations,too many officers putting in for so few hoildays or vacations days and with the furlough’s I’ve seen my vacation leave hours jump to 1200 hrs.

    • watchyour6 says:

      At my prison, KVSP, they aren’t even allowing Officers to take Holidays. They cancelled them for the month of August and September and there is no word of when or if we will be able to burn holiday time in the future.