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Portland's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Portland, Oregon | KGW.com

Oregon paid 288 state employees $3.2 million to stay home last year

An examination of public records found there are no limits on paid time off for those accused of workplace misconduct, often at a great cost to taxpayers.

Kyle Iboshi

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The Oregon Department of Corrections paid Jaime Cook $98,388 last year to stay at home, watch Netflix and play World of Warcraft video games.

Cook is a registered nurse but hasn’t been to his job at a state prison since October 2018. He was on paid administrative leave for the past 16 months, waiting for the outcome of an internal investigation about his conduct on the job.

“This is the never-ending story of staying at home,” said Cook. “I don’t want to be here. I want to work.”

Instead of going to his work site at the Oregon State Correctional Institution, Cook is required to clock in from home Monday through Friday like a normal workday, including a lunch break. He can’t leave his house until his shift is over.

Cook earns his full salary, gets paid for holidays and accrues vacation time. He even got an annual cost of living pay raise while sitting at home.

“This is not supposed to happen,” explained Cook.

In 2019, the state of Oregon paid 288 employees $3.2 million to stay home, according to public records obtained by KGW. Of those, 164 state employees – or 57% – were on paid administrative leave for more than a month. Twenty-five state employees were paid to stay away from work for six months or longer.

“The number of these instances and in particular, the length of time, needs to be thoughtfully re-evaluated,” said David Kreisman of Oregon AFSCME Council 75, a union that represents 25,000 workers in Oregon.

Credit: Kyle Iboshi

State agencies large and small placed workers on paid administrative leave for long periods of time while alleged wrongdoing on the job was investigated, according to KGW’s analysis.

The Department of Human Services, the state’s largest agency with approximately 9,000 employees, had 109 workers on paid leave last year at a cost of $1.1 million. Sixty-nine percent of DHS personnel investigations dragged on for more than a month, according to public records.

“Due to the nature of the work of DHS, personnel investigations can be extremely complex and take quite a bit of time to conduct,” explained Jake Sunderland, spokesman for DHS.

The Oregon Department of Education had three employees on paid administrative leave last year, including one worker who stayed home all 12 months. The education compliance specialist, who was not identified by name in public records, was paid $72,000 to stay away from work on paid administrative leave. It’s not clear why the Department of Education employee was placed on leave or the current status of the workplace investigation.

Analysis of public records by KGW found the use of paid administrative leave by Oregon state agencies is costly and previously has not been reviewed extensively.

State agencies are not required to record or report employees’ on paid administrative leave. No one is tracking it and there are no state requirements setting limits on how long a worker can be forced to stay home while under investigation for misconduct or wrongdoing.