Governor weighs in on problem of state workers abusing sick leave

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this post with numbers provided by the Honolulu Police Department.

We first told you Thursday that hundreds of corrections officers called in sick on the day of the NFL’s annual championship game.

This past Sunday, 260 out of 733 workers staffing the state’s prisons and jails called in sick. Last year, 230 called in sick, and in 2015, there were 255.

We’ve been tracking the issue for years, because too much sick leave means overtime pay so that the prison can maintain its minimum staffing requirements.

So what is the Department of Public Safety doing to curb the problem, and are other departments dealing with the same issue?

Gov. David Ige says state workers abusing sick leave is a problem, and stresses the importance of a public employee doing his or her job. He says it’s been on his radar for years.

“It is a challenge like in any business. I know when I worked in the phone business, people calling in and not being available on Monday after the Super Bowl is a problem all across the state,” he said. “We do know we have had few closure of visitations of people calling in sick.”

A Department of Public Safety spokesperson says the department hasn’t cancelled programs or visitation during game day weekend in over three years.

We wanted to know what the department is doing to solve the problem of officers calling in sick on game day, and asked to speak directly to the department’s director, Nolan Espinda. We were told he wasn’t available.

A spokesperson responded via email that the department is thinking outside of the box to come up with ways to curb the problem. It also asks employees for a verbal commitment that they’ll be at work on game day.

We asked if anyone’s ever been disciplined for faking sick. A spokesperson said yes, and “if there is suspected abuse of leave, we will investigate and take appropriate action.”

The department also admitted “curbing excessive leave use is a constant battle for all state agencies.”

“We continue to work to manage the employees and stress the importance the public servants have in delivering services,” Ige said.

We reached out to other departments to see if anyone’s been disciplined for abusing sick leave.

The Hawaii Police Department says one officer was caught abusing sick leave twice in 2016. The officer was given a total of 11 days suspension.

The Honolulu Police Department says in the last 10 years, 22 personnel were investigated for malingering, which is prohibited in HPD’s Standards of Conduct: “Officers and civilian employees shall not pretend or exaggerate incapacity or illness as to avoid duty.” Out of those investigations, four were found in violation of that standard.

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