Gov­er­nors paid ter­mi­nated em­ploy­ees $1.5M

State watch­dog re­port says many did no work

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By Dawn Rhodes drhodes@chicagotri­bune. com

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

JOHN J. KIM/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE 2012

Gov­er­nors Pres­i­dent Elaine Mai­mon is faulted in the re­port by the gover­nor’s of­fice of ex­ec­u­tive in­spec­tor gen­eral.

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