Two longtime Fresno State Facilities Operations employees have been cited by the State Auditor’s Office for allegedly misusing taxpayers money by “engaging in egregious and continued time and attendance abuse by taking extended breaks or leaving campus without accounting for their time,” says a report released to the public July 24.
According to the report, more than 5,100 hours of work were unaccounted for between 2013 and 2017, costing the state more than $111,000 in salaries.
The two employees were not named in the audit, but were described as groundskeepers who have worked for the university for more than 20 years. According to the report, the two are responsible for operating small tractors, backhoes and mowers. They reported directly to a supervisor instead of to a lead worker who in turn reports to a supervisor.
Facilities Operations requires employees to notify their supervisor, says the audit, whenever they need to leave work early. The two employees started work an hour earlier than other Facilities Operations staff until recently, the report says.
The auditor’s office received a complaint on the California Whistleblower hotline and opened an investigation. The university was requested to assist.
The investigation determined that the two employees missed thousands of hours of work without accounting for their time between January 2013 and December 2017. According to the audit, one employee missed two hours of work every workday by driving off campus or by sitting either in his personal vehicle or in one of the campus buildings during his work hours.
The audit report says other employees reporting to work an hour later would see the first employee either leaving a campus building or notice his assigned work area had had no work done. Other employees told the auditors that they had to complete his unfinished mowing work. Witnesses told investigators that the employee had been doing this for at least five years.
According to the audit report, the first employee was placed under surveillance for three randomly picked days by Fresno State investigators. During those days, the report says investigators saw him missing between three to four hours of work a day “either sitting in his vehicle or inside a building or by leaving campus to drive to his home.”
Based upon witnesses’ statements and its own observations, Fresno State estimated the employee had missed at least two hours of work each workday from January 2013 to December 2017. The state audit said the employee had “missed more than 2,100 hours of work” at a cost of “more than $45,000.”
The second employee, according to the audit, left campus for at least three hours daily. She was reported by four witnesses, the report says, who frequently saw her leaving campus with a relative who also works for Fresno State. Two witnesses told auditors that other employees had to finish her mowing work.
As with the first employee, Fresno State investigators conducted surveillance of the second employee during three randomly selected days. The surveillance confirmed the witnesses’ accounts, the audit says. On the three days, she missed four, five and seven hours of work, respectively, because she either arrived late or left early with her relative. According to the report, the employee was seen shopping at four different locations on the day she missed seven hours of work.
It’s believed the second employee missed at least three hours of work every workday for at least the last five years, according to the audit. Auditors estimate she missed more than 3,000 hours of work between January 2013 and December 2017, at a cost to the university of more than $66,000.
The audit report places the blame on inadequate supervision by management.
According to their supervisor, the two employees reported directly to him because they had had past problems with the lead workers. He admitted that “his other responsibilities prevented him from being able to closely supervise” the pair, the report says.
The university believes the report put “too much accountability on the supervisor” and that “the ultimate responsibility” falls “on the entire management team, most of whom have since retired.”
According to the audit, the supervisor was aware at some point of the problems but took just limited action to address them.
In response to the audit, Fresno State said that, beginning in January 2018, the two were required to report to a lead employee. They were also suspended for 12 weeks, the report says. The second employee’s relative was, according to the university, also investigated for time and attendance abuse and was given a 12-week suspension.
As of May, Fresno State is also looking at its legal options to reclaim pay for time not worked, says the audit report.