Report 98114 Summary - March 1999

State Personnel Board:

Its Management of Disciplinary Hearings Has Improved, but Further Changes Are Necessary

RESULTS IN BRIEF

While it has reduced the time to review appeals by state employees disputing disciplinary action, the State Personnel Board (SPB) needs to further improve its management of the appeals process. Prompt closure of appeal cases helps the SPB ensure that it corrects any employment problems faced by state employees who have been victims of improper discipline.

The SPB administers the system of civil service employment within California government. Its responsibilities include enforcing civil service statutes, prescribing probationary periods and classifications for state jobs, and reviewing disciplinary actions that state departments have taken against employees. When a department terminates, suspends, or demotes an employee, the employee can appeal this action to the SPB, which consists of a five-member board and a staff of administrative law judges, hearing officers, attorneys, and analysts. The SPB hears appeals and then confirms, reverses, or modifies the department's action.

California law requires the SPB to resolve "evidentiary appeals," or appeals requiring the formal presentation of evidence before an administrative law judge, within 180 days after the appeals are made. The SPB has established its own time limits for completing reviews of "nonevidentiary appeals," or those cases that need only informal hearings or reviews of written documentation submitted by the disputing parties.

The SPB, on average, continues to meet the statutory time limit for reviewing evidentiary appeals; however, it does not resolve nonevidentiary appeals as promptly. Delays in processing nonevidentiary appeals occurred partly because it does not meet the intermediate deadlines established by management. Also, a growing caseload combined with staffing deficiencies has hindered appeal processing. A 16-month vacancy in a key management position also limited managers' abilities to monitor staff performance. Further, the system to track the appeals caseload is flawed because it does not regularly produce management reports needed to evaluate the progress of appeals. The system also fails to track interim deadlines, while inaccuracies limit its usefulness. Finally, the SPB does not have updated caseload standards that allow managers to ensure that staff complete their cases expeditiously.

Not only does the SPB need to continue working to prevent delays in its appeals review process, but it could also increase its efficiency by further streamlining its evidentiary appeals process. It could still comply with state law yet reduce its work on rejection during probation appeals and some types of evidentiary appeals. Such a reduction would allow the SPB to use its resources to resolve serious appeals more promptly.

Although it has established an expedited process for reviewing minor disciplinary actions such as formal reprimands and pay reductions, the SPB limits the use of this process to appeals by employees excluded from collective bargaining. It could also reduce the work on appeals by employees terminated during their probationary periods by applying the less formal process it uses for nonevidentiary appeals. Additionally, the staff could save time by requiring that disputing parties confirm their attendance at hearings.

Although the SPB needs to resolve some cases more quickly, employees who submit appeals do not seem dissatisfied with the SPB's fairness in handling disciplinary cases. Both state law and the SPB's administrative procedures provide remedies for appellants who question the SPB's handling of their cases. Employees in only three appeal cases we reviewed asked to file charges against SPB employees for misconduct. Also, state law effective January 1, 1999, protects appellants by stipulating a code of conduct for administrative law judges.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To make certain that it reviews disciplinary cases within the time limits established by state law and its own management, the State Personnel Board (SPB) should take the following steps:

  • Update the caseload standards it uses to monitor staff performance so that it identifies inefficiencies as soon as possible.
  • Proceed with its planned acquisition and implementation of a new system for tracking cases and automating review schedules. This system should allow management to check whether staff meets intermediate deadlines, and it should generate accurate reports that show the progress of each case.

To further streamline its appeal process, the SPB should revise its procedures in the following ways:

  • Apply the expedited process it uses for some evidentiary cases to all employee appeals related to minor disciplinary actions.
  • Use its process for nonevidentiary appeals when it evaluates appeals by employees terminated during their probationary periods.
  • Direct state employees appealing terminations that occurred during probationary periods to establish merit for appeals before the SPB schedules the employees' hearings.
  • Require the parties involved in disciplinary or employment disputes to confirm their attendance at hearings so that SPB staff does not waste resources.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The State Personnel Board agrees with our recommendations and findings.


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