The State Worker

The State Worker: Department pays big bucks to short-term employee

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

Here’s state employment for you: After working less than a month for the California Department of Aging, executive Monica Rea left her job – and then Aging was required to pay tens of thousands of dollars to cash out her backed-up leave time.

Rea’s story broke into public view this year after a state investigation said she was a central figure in an unqualified employee’s illegal promotion at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. A scathing report said that Rea, Fair Employment’s No. 2 administrator at the time, displayed “blatant dishonesty” by contradicting herself in written statements and interviews about the matter.

The state issued the report on July 11, a Friday. By then, Rea had secured a deputy director of administration gig with the Department of Aging, which channels funds to a variety of senior-adult services. She started her new job on Monday, July 14. The move boosted her base pay $251 to $8,621 per month, according to state payroll records.

(Ironically, Fair Employment personnel employee Chris Thomas, who objected to the unlawful promotion, lost a job she had lined up with the state’s health benefit exchange right around that same time. Thomas believes she lost the job because she told the truth about her concerns to an investigator, who detailed them in his publicly released report.)

Three days after Rea started at Aging, this column highlighted the probe’s findings. Aging officials at the time said they knew about problems at Fair Employment, but they didn’t know that Rea was implicated in them.

The next day, July 18, Rea reportedly cleared out her office. Aging spokeswoman Christin Hemann, who had confirmed Rea’s starting date a few days earlier, wouldn’t say whether Rea still worked there. A Fair Employment spokeswoman confirmed that Rea did not have return rights to the department.

Then, responding to an inquiry from this column, Hemann said last week that Rea left Aging on Aug. 7.

Regardless of the circumstances of her departure, during her seven-year state career Rea had amassed the equivalent of 15 days of overtime and 137 days of paid leave on the books.

By comparison, the state’s leave-cap rules say most employees can bank up to 640 hours of leave, or 80 full-time days. But it’s poorly enforced in many departments, and managers who are supposed to enforce the rules tend to be among the worst transgressors.

And when an employee exits and wants to be paid, guess who pays that bill? The last employer. It’s the most simple way to handle paying off leave credits for employees who may transfer a half-dozen times or more during a long state career.

That meant Rea’s leave cash-out fell on Aging, even though she worked just a few weeks. State records show the department paid Rea $7,445.41 for 19 workdays and $60,983.78 for leave and OT. It will have to cover that cost with cuts or by holding the job open for several months.

This story has been updated from print and online versions to correct that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing spokesperson said the former employee did not have return rights to the department. Corrected at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 4, 2014.