N.M.: 243 State Employees May Be Disciplined for Misusing Election Leave

By Rosemarie Lally May 18, 2015
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Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration recently sent warnings of possible disciplinary action to more than 200 state employees who appear to have taken paid election leave but failed to vote in last November’s election.

Potential disciplinary action may range from a reprimand to suspension, according to the state.

The alleged problem surfaced when the State Personnel Office performed an audit, cross-referencing state employees’ Social Security numbers with those in voter databases kept by the Secretary of State’s Office. Audit findings indicated that of the roughly 4,600 state employees who used the paid voting leave, 243 appear to have taken the paid leave without actually voting; 42 of those who took the paid leave were not even registered to vote.

State employees are entitled under state law and personnel rules to take two hours of paid administrative leave to vote. However, Justin Najaka, personnel office interim director, said that employees should use the leave for its intended purpose. "We have a responsibility to be accountable to the taxpayers,” he added.

A similar audit conducted after the 2010 general election resulted in 721 letters being sent out to workers who allegedly had taken leave but failed to vote; 221 of those workers allegedly were not registered to vote. This year’s reduced numbers are “a significant improvement,” Najaka noted.

Several unions representing state workers, including the Communications Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have expressed concerns that some employees have been wrongfully accused of not voting. They have urged the state to do a thorough investigation before imposing discipline.

The state’s letter to employees states that they have 11 days to prove they used the leave for voting purposes. If an employee fails to respond or can’t prove that the time was used to vote, a copy of the letter will be placed in the employee’s file and two hours’ pay will be docked. Further discipline will be decided on a case-by-case basis, Najaka said.

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.
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