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Four years ago, Vicky Wood-Teeters got a pat on the back from her supervisor in Oregon’s tax department, praising her for rooting out $189,000 in taxpayer fraud.
The commendation didn’t help her keep her job when a newly required criminal background check turned up an offense she committed 32 years ago, more than a decade before she became a public employee.
She was one of three Oregon Department of Revenue employees who were dismissed from jobs they held for years after their state adopted a new IRS rule requiring criminal background checks for public workers who can read taxpayer information.
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That rule is coming to California state government, too, but state officials and union leaders say they’re working to find new jobs for public workers rather than risk laying off certain longtime employees.
So far, dozens of state employees have been reassigned rather than compelled to submit fingerprints for formal background checks. The state has been working with its unions since late last year to avoid layoffs, Cal HR spokesman Andrew LaMar said.
“No state employee has been laid off as a result of undergoing mandatory criminal background checks,” he said, adding that “fewer than 50” had been reassigned.
It’s hard to say exactly how many state workers are getting new jobs.
State government’s largest union, SEIU Local 1000, confirmed that it’s in talks to prevent layoffs, but the details are being ironed out within specific departments. Neither the statewide union nor CalHR had ground-level data.
At least nine departments might have to adopt the criminal background checks and a notice union leaders received in December suggested the rule would apply to wide range of state workers, from tax auditors to warehouse workers.
“Local 1000’s ability to negotiate the implementation of the new fingerprint and background check policy, underscores the importance of union representation. In conjunction with CalHR, we have been able find solutions that adhere to the law, while protecting workers and their families without causing substantial displacement,” said the union’s president, Yvonne Walker.
Aside from law enforcement positions, background checks were a rare requirement until the IRS in 2016 handed down its rule.
Wood-Teeters first started working for the state of Oregon in 1999, 13 years after she spent 60 days in confinement over a tax fraud conviction. She did not disclose the conviction when she was hired, or in 2008 when her employer conducted some criminal background checks.
Oregon began complying with the IRS rule in 2017, and that background check turned up Wood-Teeters’ 1986 offense.
“My 32-year-old skeleton will be out of the closet,” she said she told a coworker when she learned about the policy.
Wood-Teeters was dismissed on Nov. 30, and recently lost her appeal for reinstatement. Records from her appeal show that she did not want to discuss her conviction, and the administrative judge wrote that he had little room to reinstate her despite the praise she earned from department leaders.
At 62, she’s eligible to start collecting her pension and Social Security she earned from earlier in her career. Still, she would have preferred to work a few more years to earn a better pension.
“”Every day I wake up and I feel guilty. It’s taken a toll on my mental health,” she said. “Nowhere in the IRS code does it say you have to go back 32 years.”
The kind of record you don’t want to break
A call center manager at the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration on Tuesday sent a big thank you to workers there who handled a record-breaking number of questions and complaints from taxpayers last month.
The crunch came from the state’s unveiling of a new tax-collection program called the Centralized Revenue Opportunity System (CROS) that surprised tens of thousands of taxpayers who struggled to file second-quarter returns by a deadline this week. About 85,000 taxpayers called the customer service center in July as of Tuesday morning.
Two accountants told The Bee that the new program tripled the amount of time it takes them to submit a return, and many more small business owners heckled the tax department on social media over the past couple weeks.
“By the end of the day, CDTFA will likely set a record for the most calls answered in a single month in the history of our call center,” Thor Dunn of CDTFA wrote. “It is your hard work and dedication that has allowed us to reach this milestone.”
But, Dunn wrote that he’d rather not repeat the achievement. “We can put this accomplishment in the record book and continue to work with our CROS and (contractor) team to improve the customer and staff usability for CROS, so this record does not need to be broken.”
Jobs, job, jobs
California state government posted more than 900 jobs in the past seven days. from accountants to scientists and Caltrans maintenance workers. Find out more at jobs.ca.gov and don’t miss those filing deadlines.