After it suspected a deputy had falsified his time records, claiming to have taught DARE courses and earned compensatory time, the Itasca County Chief Deputy questioned the deputy about his reported work time. The Chief Deputy learned that the deputy’s timecards were not accurate, and suspected the deputy was lying in response to her question. In response to these actions, the department put the deputy out on administrative leave, pending an external investigation in February of 2017.
The investigation continued for a long period of time, and in June of 2017, the deputy’s union filed a grievance over the department’s placement of the deputy on extended administrative leave, claiming the leave was disciplinary in nature. At the conclusion of the investigation in 2018, the department moved to terminate the deputy, and the union merged its administrative leave grievance with a grievance over the termination of the deputy. The arbitration award can be found at https://mn.gov/bms/documents/BMS/135570-20180913-Itasca.pdf.
It appears that the lengthy investigation was worth the wait, as the termination of the deputy was upheld.
However, what caught our eye was Arbitrator Laumeyer’s statements regarding the employer’s use of administrative leave. It was the union’s position that because the department placed the grievant on administrative leave over something “small,” it constituted discipline without just cause. This, despite the fact the grievant was losing neither pay, benefits nor seniority.
After finding nothing in the collective bargaining agreement restricting the use of administrative leave by the employer, the arbitrator made two unequivocal statements regarding administrative leave:
The Employer’s position that the Grievant was placed on administrative leave is a matter of the Employer’s inherent rights. Placement on administrative leave during an investigation is an accepted practice, especially when the alleged offense may have led to criminal charges.
Placement on paid administrative leave is not discipline, nor does it result in loss of wages.
Now, placing a long-term employee on administrative leave for over a year is not going to be an easy pill to swallow for most department heads – you’re getting none of the work for all of the pay. But if you feel your workplace cannot tolerate the employee’s presence during the course of an investigation, you should feel confident, barring any contractual language to the contrary, that you can place an employee on paid administrative leave without negative repercussions from an arbitrator standpoint. In many cases the money that you spend keeping that employee out of the workplace will be outweighed by the increased efficiency, morale, and security of knowing that a problem employee is no longer keeping your organization down.
Obviously, each situation is different, and individual evaluation of interest is necessary. If you or your organization need guidance on any aspect of the employee investigation process, feel free to contact the Wiley Law Office for advice that works.