Governors paid terminated employees $1.5M
State watchdog report says many did no work
Governors State University kept nearly three dozen former employees on its payroll for up to a year after they’d been terminated from the institution, paying more than $1.5 million to people who were doing no or negligible work for the school, and some of whom had obtained other jobs, a government watchdog report found.
The governor’s office of executive inspector general last week concluded 33 people had been terminated from the south suburban university but continued to collect full salaries and benefits. Some were technically employed by Governors but were doing no work, while others found other employment. The employees were even told to submit falsified timesheets to make it look like they were still working full-time at the university, the report said.
It was part of a poorly monitored and inconsistent system for firing certain workers, according to the report, which laid the blame squarely on President Elaine Maimon. Government officials determined Maimon authorized the falsified timesheets and “mismanaged” the terminations of multiple employees.
“GSU has had a longstanding practice of automatically paying at-will employees after they were terminated without cause and stopped working,” the report states. “Many former employees said it was common knowledge that GSU paid terminated employees without requiring them to work.”
Maimon, who has led Governors since 2007 and is due to retire next summer, could not immediately be reached for comment. In her interview with the inspector general’s office, Maimon told investigators that she was familiar with the termination policy but said she was not directly involved in those decisions. She said she did not know of any workers getting paid after they stopped working at the university or of their submitting timecards to that effect. “Ms. Maimon stated she was not generally consulted about these issues because she is ‘just not in the weeds’ on these matters,” the report said.
The ongoing payments were tied to a previous board policy requiring the university to provide advance notice if an at-will employee was terminated without cause. Those workers were entitled to anywhere between two weeks and four months of notice, depending on how long they’d worked for the university. That policy, however, the report points out, did not obligate Governors State to pay those employees anything once they’d left the school — even if they stopped working there before their notice period was over.
The inspector general interviewed 14 former Governors workers between January and May 2018 in order to find out what payments they received for what work after they were informed they’d been terminated.
The watchdog found the employees were given wildly different instructions about what they were expected to do between their termination notice and their last day of work. Several weren’t given any guidance and did no work. Some were told not to come to work but to be on standby — but ultimately never were asked to complete any tasks.
The names and job titles of the employees involved were redacted from the report. Information about when they worked for the university also was redacted. It is difficult to ascertain how long some employees continued to be paid because the dates of employment were redacted.
In one case, a former vice president was given more than a year of notice before his official last day of work. During that time, he told investigators he did not return to campus or do any work “although he said he did submit his timesheets.”
That person received $164,337 in salary and benefits. A former director said she stopped working the day of her termination notice and returned to campus only to clean out her office. She continued to submit timesheets but did not do any work. She received $88,169 in salary and benefits.
Some employees said this practice became commonly known as being on “special assignment” or receiving “special projects.” Others also told investigators it amounted to a severance package.
Upper administrators interviewed acknowledged that terminated employees were directed to submit timesheets as though they were working on campus, saying that was the only way to ensure they would still be paid. They denied knowingly processing timesheets from people known to have taken other jobs.
In addition to saying she was unaware of improper payments to former employees, Maimon pushed back on the assertions these people were not doing any work for the university.
She also appeared to suggest that what transpired might have been a cheaper alternative for the small university.
“Ms. Maimon also opined that the cost of failing to terminate some of the employees should be considered and compared with what GSU could have spent on lawsuits to contest terminations for cause,” the report stated. “Ms. Maimon also noted that GSU had gone through the ‘worst budget impasse’ and the decision must be seen ‘in that context.’”
In all, be it Maimon or her administrators, investigators found no one accepted responsibility to oversee terminations and ensure those employees received only the pay and benefits to which they were entitled. The month after Maimon was interviewed for the investigation, Governors’ board of trustees revamped the termination policy and eliminated the requirement of giving notice, according to the report. Employees may instead be offered severance pay provided they sign a separation agreement.
Most members of the board, as at several state universities, are new trustees appointed this year and were not in office when improper payments occurred.
“The Governors State Board thanks the OEIG for its findings and report,” Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the board, said in a statement Friday. “Since the office began sharing its findings, the board initiated an immediate and comprehensive overhaul of its policies and procedures to protect taxpayers, students and the university from a repeat of this episode.”
“GSU has had a long-standing practice of automatically paying at-will employees after they were terminated without cause and stopped working.” — Report by governor’s office of executive inspector general
Governors President Elaine Maimon is faulted in the report by the governor’s office of executive inspector general.