556 Tennessee state workers denied pay raises

556 Tennessee state workers denied pay raises

August 2nd, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

Gov. Haslam

Gov. Haslam

Disciplinary offenses for state employees

Here are some examples of acts that may warrant disciplinary action against state employees:*

  • Insubordination
  • Inefficiency, incompetency or negligence in performances of duties
  • Conduct unbecoming an employee in state service or gross misconduct
  • Careless, negligent, or improper use of state property or equipment; failure to obtain or maintain a current license or certificate or other qualification required for employment
  • Failure to maintain "satisfactory and harmonious" working relationships with the public and fellow employees
  • Habitually late

Source: Rules of Tennessee Department of Human Resources

NASHVILLE -- Figures show 556 state workers, or 1.3 percent of Tennessee government's work force, were denied across-the-board pay increases July 1 after Gov. Bill Haslam changed existing policy and blocked raises for those disciplined in the past year.

Responding to an information request from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the state Human Resources Department said the workers were among 771 employees denied the 1.6 percent cost of living increase, the first rise in pay after three years.

Another 163 workers didn't get a raise because of poor performance evaluations. Human Resources figures show 52 more workers didn't see the cost-of-living adjustment after receiving a low evaluation and also being the recipient of disciplinary action.

Denying pay increases because of poor performance evaluations has long been a provision of the state's annual appropriations act, passed by the General Assembly.

But using disciplinary infractions as justification for not giving a raise was a new twist, drawing protests last month from Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Robert O'Connell, who questioned its legality. O'Connell also denounced the move as "mean spirited" because the workers already had been punished once.

Some employees would have fought disciplinary charges, especially on minor matters, had they known they would later be punished again by withholding additional pay, O'Connell said Monday.

"There were hundreds of people unaware at the time this came down there was any threat to their pay raises," O'Connell said. "It was unfair and we think unwise and possibly illegal."

The governor, however, has defended it, saying raises are for employees "doing a good job."

O'Connell argued many of those who were refused pay increases because of disciplinary issues had received positive performance evaluations.

He noted Haslam has been quoted saying only about 100 people were affected. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

The new policy affected employees who had been suspended, demoted or received two warning write ups from supervisors. Employees can be punished for infractions including insubordination, being late and failure to maintain "satisfactory and harmonious" working relationships with the public and fellow employees.

TSEA's government affairs director, Sarah Adair, said a Department of Children's Services employee was disciplined because of how she handled a situation in which she was directed to drive to pick up a single young child for court. Instead, Adair said, she found two were supposed to go.

Having arrived in a vehicle with just one children's car seat, Adair said, the worker faced a no-win situation. She could leave one child behind or call someone to bring an additional car seat. But that could have made her late for court and landed her in trouble with the judge, Adair said. Instead, the woman chose a third option: Transporting the second child in the back seat without a children's car seat. She wound up getting disciplined for it, the TSEA lobbyist said.

Earlier in the day, O'Connell met with Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter and other officials. O'Connell said it wasn't to try to get Haslam to reverse the decision, made unanimously by his Cabinet.

Rather, O'Connell said, it was to try to get the department to consider allowing workers with positive performance evaluations who stayed out of trouble for six to nine months to later qualify for the 1.6 percent increase.

Departmental spokesman John S. McManus confirmed the department asked O'Connell to submit the proposal in writing.

Tennessee general government has an estimated 42,000 workers. The 771 denied pay raises represent 1.83 percent of the work force.

Figures show the state Department of Correction had 232 people denied pay raises. The bulk of those -- 213 -- lost out on the increases strictly because of disciplinary issues. Six were denied the increases because of low performance evaluations. Eleven were denied because of lower evaluations and disciplinary issues.

One employee lost out on a pay raise because of both a demotion and a low performance evaluation, while another did not get a raise because of a demotion.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.