LWC Secretary fires back against audit showing employees got double paychecks

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 9:20 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Legislative auditors and leaders with the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) are digging in their heels.

The two agencies are at odds over whether employees at LWC broke the rules after an audit shows they got double paychecks at the height of the pandemic. Ricky Rodriguez, assistant director with the Legislative Auditor’s Office, says there was a clear violation of policy.

“Essentially, it was 80 hours of compensation for 40 hours of time worked so that put them, in our opinion, outside of civil service rules,” said Rodriguez.

The head of the State Civil Service Commission, Byron Decoteau Jr., agreed with that assessment. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the director if there was a violation.

“Looking at the actual report from the legislative auditor, if the circumstance did occur where these employees were physically working at the premise at LWC and, in addition, were granted a special leave time that was meant for an employee who was not working, then certainly, yes, that would be a rule violation,” said Decoteau.

LWC Secretary Ava Cates is adamant that both of them are wrong. She is firing back, calling out the auditor’s work and even the head of the State Civil Service Commission.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to good state employees,” said Cates.

This all started when Gov. John Bel Edwards closed state offices to the public last March. That move put in place a new paid leave program called Special Leave -- Act of God (SLAG). It was set up to pay those employees who could not make it to work.

Auditors found that those LWC workers who did show up to work got paid and then basically got paid again. Essentially, they worked 40 hours a week, got their regular pay, but then got the extra paid leave on top of that. In a three-week period last March, several employees racked up more than 33,000 hours, taking home about $786,000 during that time.

RELATED: LWC employees may have been improperly compensated $786,000, state auditor finds

“I mean, any number that was improperly paid when you’re dealing with our citizen’s tax dollars is alarming. We have to make sure that we are fiscally prudent with our dollars that we have in state government, so any number is alarming,” explained Decoteau.

The LWC Secretary said there’s nothing wrong with what they did. She points to an internal policy, which she says allows her to give employees more money during a disaster situation. Cates tells the 9News Investigators the policy gave her the green light to shell out the extra cash.

The head of the State Civil Service Commission says it does not.

“That particular policy addresses how to compensate employees for overtime. This situation that was presented by the legislative auditor, this was the regular hours that these employees were working,” added Decoteau.

“Well, I vehemently disagree. In fact, the director of the commission, Mr. Decoteau, who I respect tremendously and I did meet with our new auditor, former Sheriff Waguespack [who is now the Legislative Auditor] regarding this issue because it is one that I think cuts to the core and undermines really the work of good state employees,” said Cates.

Decoteau says all of this could have been avoided if the folks over at LWC had just reached out to them to ask before they made the extra payments.

“We did not receive a formal request from LWC, but yes, there could have been a way if we would have worked together,” said Decoteau.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the LWC Secretary if it’s possible that there may have been a misunderstanding between the agencies regarding how the extra payments were going to be distributed.

“Well, you know, when we were at work, the Legislative Auditor and the Civil Service Commission weren’t there to help us but these good state employees were. State agencies have been thrust into something that no one planned for and no one accounted for so to now come in and Monday morning quarterback is sort of saying you weren’t even at the game and now you want to come in and say how the game should be played,” Cates added.

Even though they disagree, the head of the State Civil Service Commission says those employees who pocketed extra money could now be on the hook to pay it all back.

“Generally, yes, there are provisions where the employee could potentially have to pay back that money but that would be a decision that would be made with me and my commission,” said Decoteau.

“I would absolutely stand against that and I would hope that the commission would find differently,” said Cates.

Decoteau says the commission will meet Wednesday, June 9, 2021. The agenda is already out for that meeting so it’s unlikely that this will come up at that meeting but it could surface at a future meeting.

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