Paid administrative leave adds up for Idaho state employees

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Posted at 2:17 AM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 05:30:46-04

BOISE, Idaho — Paid administrative leave among Idaho state employees over 11 months cost the state about $2 million, a newspaper investigation has found.

The Idaho Press reports in a story on Sunday that nearly 3,000 state employees were on paid administrative leave at some point between July 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019.

"The most common reason for paid administrative leave is when there are allegations against someone that makes it difficult or divisive for them to still be at work — or if you want them away so you can investigate their materials," said Peter Cappelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The state has about 25,000 employees, and the Idaho Press in its investigation found that 90 state employees had more than four weeks of paid administrative leave during the 11-month period it examined.

Susan Buxton, the state's Division of Human Resources director, handles many of the paid administrative leave decisions.

"We need a system that's more capable of analysis," Buxton said. "But in my opinion, we're doing a lot better with having a handle on administrative leave."

Large state agencies, including state universities, handle their own personnel matters.

"In virtually any case where there's been a serious accusation of wrongdoing, and there is any concern at all that the presence of that employee might impair the progress or the independence of an investigation, the university will almost always determine that the employee and the university are better off to give a time-out while we check it out," said Brian Foisy, vice president of finance and administration at the University of Idaho.

"It isn't clear that they have done anything wrong, so you don't want to punish them by withholding their pay," he said.

Universities tend to be among the state's biggest payers of administrative leave because of contracts not being renewed. In some of those cases, employees with access to sensitive information who might become disgruntled at not having their contract renewed are given paid administrative leave.

Former University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear was fired in August 2018 but has continued to receive a salary. He was on paid administrative leave during an investigation into the school's botched handling of sexual assault complaints involving athletes leading up to Spear's firing.

University spokeswoman Jodi Walker said Spear's continued pay is being classified as administrative leave, but the payments are actually part of a contract agreement that has Spear earning about $95,000 a year until the contract expires in mid-February 2020.