The Cayman Islands government service is bringing back to work some employees who were suspended as a result of suspected criminal activity and instituting internal disciplinary proceedings against them for “gross misconduct” after they return.
“I believe that we have no choice but to take this action, given that three years is the average time it is taking for criminal cases to be concluded.”
The internal proceedings were initiated as a way of potentially removing the workers from the government payroll for certain unrelated incidents of administrative misconduct, even if their criminal court cases continued to drag on, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Saturday.
Mr. Manderson said the move was made in response to public concern over the dozens of civil servants who remained on “required leave” – fully paid suspension – for years, in some cases, without court matters being resolved. In June, there were 31 active required leave cases, according to reports made to the Legislative Assembly.
An email Mr. Manderson sent to civil service chief officers in November 2015 stated that the Ministry of Finance, in particular, had “a number of customs officers on required leave as a result of [suspected] criminal activity and it’s our intention to use their cases as a test case.”
“I believe that we have no choice but to take this action, given that three years is the average time it is taking for criminal cases to be concluded,” Mr. Manderson wrote. “Moreover, this action sends all the right signals to the public and staff.”
The deputy governor indicated that legal advice from the solicitor general was obtained before taking the decision.
Asked last week for more information about the paid suspensions, Mr. Manderson said the number of government workers on required leave has been reduced by at least five since the November memo was sent and that the number should shrink further shortly.
“Our goal is simple – reduce the use of required leave across the civil service,” he said, adding that government managers are also looking at ways to reduce the length of time employees who must be suspended and removed from their jobs can continue to receive full pay.
“Right now, a devoted and high-performing employee of many years who suffers a serious illness, such as cancer, can only count on receiving extended sick pay for a finite amount of time,” Mr. Manderson said. “A person who is before the court facing criminal charges has no end date for when their pay may cease. This cannot be right.”
Cases requiring suspension and ultimately termination of civil servants will not always require the employees to be placed on “gardening leave” and in some instances, Mr. Manderson said, it might not be in the public interest to remove someone from productive work they could perform in another office or department while their matters are settled.
He said civil service managers would have to consider a number of factors, including whether the employee’s removal is needed to facilitate a criminal or disciplinary investigation, whether the employee involved is considered a threat to others, whether the alleged misconduct would “erode public confidence” in the civil service, or whether the person would be disruptive if they continued to work.
The deputy governor said senior civil service managers are aware that in some cases, the employees under investigation will be exonerated. However, he questioned whether many government workers on suspension are truly “motivated” to bring their matters to an end, since they continue to receive full pay.
“We are considering amending our laws to introduce gradual pay reductions and finally, to terminate pay for employees who are on leave and facing criminal charges before the courts over prolonged periods,” he said.
“We are purposely tackling this issue so that the alleged misconduct of a few does not compromise the reputation of thousands of hard-working, professional, passionate and honest men and women within the civil service.”