Mass. State Workers Racking Up Millions in Unused Vacation Time

ANCHOR: State workers are racking up millions in unused sick and vacation time, and cashing it out when they leave—benefits most of us in the private sector just don’t get. Team 5’s Sean Kelly reveals the reason why, along with the staggering costs to taxpayers.

REPORTER: From prison guards to professors to policy makers, it pays not to be sick or go on vacation. According to most state contracts, workers can bank unlimited sick days and redeem 20 percent of them when they retire. They can also bank and cash out up to 10 weeks worth of unused vacation time. Team 5 Investigates found taxpayers have written checks to state workers totaling $127 million in the last three years.

GEORGE MULLIN: It certainly is too sweet of a deal.

REPORTER George Mullin is the director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management. A recent survey found only six percent of private sector companies offer cash payouts for sick time; only 16 percent payout for unused vacation time.

REPORTER: Why don’t companies do it in the private sector?

GEORGE MULLIN: Because it costs. It just costs too much.

REPORTER: Take a look at the numbers. Employees at the University of Massachusetts cashed out more than $20 million in unused sick and vacation time in the last three years. That’s enough to pay a year’s tuition for 935 students. State troopers took home more than $11 million, which could have paid the salaries of 220 new officers. And department of corrections could keep 181 prisoners behind bars for another year with the $8.5 million it shelled out in unused sick and vacation time.

KEVIN PRESTON: It’s a bargain for the state; I can’t say it’s a bargain for employees.

REPORTER: Kevin Preston leads the largest union of state workers. Why should state workers be allowed to do this?

PRESTON: Well, it saves money in the long run for the state. I mean, essentially what the state is doing is self-insuring instead of providing any long- or short-term disability to employees.

REPORTER:  Preston also told Team 5 state workers need these benefits because they’re not entitled to any severance if they’re laid off.

PRESTON: And the only severance you have is whatever vacation you’ve been able to accumulate and not use.

REPORTER: Should this be allowed to continue?

MULLIN: No. I think it’s time to get rid of the benefits.

REPORTER: Considering state workers are paid to donate blood, volunteer, and go to school on your dime.

PRESTON: I don’t think the state can afford to cut the benefit package much more than they’ve done.

REPORTER: Gov. Patrick has criticized quasi-public agencies for their hefty payouts of unused sick and vacation time, but he hasn’t done anything to get rid of those benefits for workers under his control. The state’s head of human resources told Team 5 that Massachusetts is required to compensate all employees for unused vacation time—however, there’s no such requirement for unused sick time.