Report 2000-130 Summary - April 2001

University of California:

New Policies Should Make Career Appointments Available to More Employees and Make Campus Practices More Consistent

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the University of California's (university) use of casual employees revealed the following:

  • Casual employees in the same occupational group as career employees had fewer opportunities for salary increases and received fewer benefits.

  • Several factors contributed to the differences among campuses in the use of casual employees, including the extent to which they monitored casual employment.

  • Use of casual employees appeared reasonable for jobs with fluctuating or sporadic workloads.

  • In other instances, the use of casual employees was not reasonable because the employees were working full-time for several years with a minimal break in service annually, a device used to perpetuate a position's casual status.
Finally, we found that casual employment had no uniform pattern of impact with respect to ethnic group or age group.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Although casual employees at the University of California (university) were employed in the same occupational groups as career employees and may have worked the same number of hours for a limited time, they had fewer opportunities for merit salary increases, received significantly fewer employment benefits, and were less likely to keep their jobs during layoffs. Until recently, the university defined casual employees as nonstudent employees appointed to work either 50 percent or more of full-time for less than a year or less than 50 percent of full-time indefinitely, while it defined career employees as employees expected to work for one year or longer at 50 percent of full-time or more.

At the time our audit started, career employees had access to dental, vision, and disability insurance benefits that were not available to casual employees. Career employees also belonged to the University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP), whereas casual employees did not. Furthermore, casual employees had no assurance that they would receive the same level of retirement benefits as their career colleagues.

The university now refers to casual employees as limited-appointment employees and has approved new policies and agreements requiring it to convert to career status those who work more than 1,000 hours in any consecutive 12-month period. However, not all those who were casual employees and who would convert to career status under the new policies may find these new policies to their advantage. For example, some may prefer the greater flexibility in work hours or the smaller deductions from their paychecks that could come with casual employment.

As of October 1999, casual employees represented 9 percent of the university's employees, despite some general university policies that may have restricted its use of casual employees. The extent to which each campus used casual employees varied. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with 25 percent of all university employees, had the highest ratio (24 percent) of casual employees to total casual and career employees, whereas the University of California, Davis, with 16 percent of all employees, had the lowest ratio (10 percent). More than one-half of the casual employees provided clerical or research and laboratory services.

Several factors contributed to the differences among campuses in the use of casual employees. For example, the campus that had the lowest proportion of casual employees monitored casual employment centrally to a much greater degree than occurred at most other campuses. Another important factor affecting the number of casual employees was the use of outside contractors at some campuses to perform work that casual employees performed at other campuses. As a result, the number of casual employees on the campuses without these contractors may have appeared disproportionately high.

When campus and department administrators explained their reasons for using casual employees, we found that in some instances the use of casual employees appeared reasonable, but in others it did not. In making this assessment of a department's practices, we did not consider the use of casual positions reasonable when the employees worked 50 percent of full-time or more for over a year. Some kinds of work are well suited to casual employment, and we found many instances in which campuses' use of casual employees was reasonable. For example, various kinds of jobs with fluctuating workloads and jobs that benefit from having short-term, part-time staff who can fill in during peak times were generally reasonable as casual appointments. In one instance, a campus's extension program used casual employees to work at its registration window during peak periods, to provide in-class registration services, to provide interpretive services for the deaf attending classes, and to work at conferences provided by the extension program once each quarter. Additionally, some departments used employees for sporadic work. For example, casual employees were used as ushers or other support staff for sporting and theatrical events that normally required the employee to work less than 20 hours a month.

Although some uses of casual employees appeared reasonable, we found other instances that were not. For example, departments at one campus cited several reasons, including the uncertainty of future funding, for using casual employees as staff research associates and laboratory assistants in various research departments. However, we question this justification for using casual employees. Even though the funding may not have been available indefinitely, nothing precluded the university from providing career status to these staff research associates or laboratory assistants. Career status does not guarantee continued employment. We noted that of the 107 casual employees we reviewed in several of UCLA's research departments, 14 had worked full-time for more than three years, with a minimal break in service annually, a device used to perpetuate a position's casual status. Some of these employees were also working 20 to 50 hours of overtime monthly. Because these employees worked in these positions at more than 50 percent time for an extended period, we think these positions could have been converted to career status even before the new rules were established. Additionally, this campus's practice of retaining these employees in their casual positions was not consistent with the practices of some other campuses.

Certain casual employees received benefits that they were not entitled to receive and that others in their position did not because some campus administrators misunderstood university policy. Furthermore, the Payroll/Personnel System required separate codes to identify the employment type-casual or career-and to identify the package of benefits the employee was eligible to receive. However, the campuses' personnel system did not appear to provide an automated check that compared the two codes and disallowed or flagged an entry that violated university policy. When the university is inconsistent in its treatment of employees, it exposes itself to potential morale problems and questions of fairness. In addition, when campuses provide benefits to casual employees that they are not entitled to receive, they also unnecessarily spend public funds.

We found that casual employment had no uniform pattern with respect to ethnic group or age group. Of the 692 employees who had maintained a casual status for at least five years, approximately 66 percent were white, almost 11 percentage points higher than their representation in California's workforce for this group. In contrast, Hispanics represented only 12 percent of these long-term casual employees, which was 16 percentage points below their representation in California's workforce. Whites also had a lower rate of conversion from casual to career appointments than other ethnic groups did. As of October 1999, individuals over the age of 61 represented 34 percent of long-term casual employees but only 4 percent of long-term career employees. Women represented 57 percent and 65 percent of those employed in casual and career positions, respectively.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that campuses fully understand the new university policies, the Office of the President should clarify its policies related to the eligibility of employees for certain benefits.

To further ensure that employees receive only allowable benefits for their positions, the Office of the President should install automated checks in the Payroll/Personnel System to disallow or flag entries that violate university policy.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The university agrees with the report and its recommendations and further states that it expects the new employment and benefit policies will clarify the university's intent with regard to its temporary workforce. In addition, the university states it is committed to providing further clarification and training on its benefits eligibility requirements and is researching the incorporation of additional automated edits in the Payroll/Personnel System to flag entries that violate university policy.


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