If you were caught with marijuana at work, would you be put on paid leave? Probably not, but that’s because you don’t work at the Environmental Protection Agency where one employee got six months of paid leave after being indicted for pot possession.
“The employee was placed on administrative leave on March 17, 2014, after being arrested, jailed and indicted for possession of marijuana,” according to an EPA inspector general report on the agency’s administrative leave practices.
The IG noted the EPA gave the employee a total of 7.5 months of administrative leave — well over the 10 days of leave for those suspected of committing a crime are supposed to get under agency guidelines. More troubling, there is “no documentation in the file explaining the deviation from policy or how the terms of the settlement agreement were arrived at.”
The EPA watchdog’s report builds off previous findings that eight agency employees were given paid administrative leave totalling “20,926 hours and cost the government an estimated $1,096,868.” These employees were put on paid leave “in connection with employee conduct and disciplinary actions.”
Four of those eight employees were on paid leave for more than one year, and some employees received scheduled pay raises despite being put on leave for disciplinary reasons.
A 2014 Government Accountability Office report estimated the “salary cost for EPA employees on administrative leave for fiscal years (FYs) 2011 through 2013 was $17,550,100.” GAO noted 69 EPA employees were on administrative leave for one month or more — 50 of these employees were on leave for more than three months while two were on leave for over a year.
The IG’s latest report criticizes EPA for not having adequate guidance when it comes to putting employees on administrative leave in regards to disciplinary actions.
“Without adequate guidance, the EPA may grant more administrative leave than necessary and incur excessive payroll costs,” IG found. “The lack of adequate documentation and justification for the extended use of administrative leave can also lead others to second guess the agency’s decisions.”
While the EPA has policies for putting people on leave in connection with disciplinary actions, the agency’s “use of administrative leave appears disproportionate when compared to [Office of Personnel Management] guidance related to unacceptable performance and misconduct,” according to the IG.
“We do not consider 4 months or more to be a brief absence,” IG found. “Because of limited documentation in the case files, we were unable to determine the basis for the extended periods of administrative leave.”
“Documentation was limited because EPA guidance does not establish requirements for documentation to support the basis for extended periods of administrative leave,” the IG reported. “Also, the EPA has not established parameters on the use of administrative leave or the appropriate level of authority for approval.”
The EPA employee caught with marijuana last year was put on paid administrative leave for six months. The EPA’s lawyer told the IG’s office she was “told” to grant the employee nine months of paid leave, but only agreed to six months as part of a compromise.
“The agency entered into a separation agreement on May 20, 2014, and allowed the employee an additional 6 months of administrative leave before the employee’s voluntary retirement on October 31, 2014,” the IG reported.
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