City Government

Public Employee Bonus Plan Take Two

We got to thinking about this bonus business for public employees and came up with a plan that should define the compensation system. It is really quite simple.

Public employees are EXPECTED to do a good job, be on time and not absent from work. Those who do good things and follow the rules should be fairly and adequately compensated for their efforts.

They also deserve some job security–unlike what county employees apparently will have under the new “at will” classification which will allow firing without cause.

Anything “extra” a public employe does should be compensated through overtime, promotions, salary increases, or compensatory time off. To use surplus tax money for one-time bonuses is merely redistribution of the wealth.

BONUSES should be awarded only to those who risk their lives “above and beyond the call of duty” or quantifiably save money for the taxpayers through:

–whistle blowing which reveals corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse.
–suggesting cost-savings procedures they are otherwise not paid to perform.

If all workers deserve more money, make across the board raises. It is hard to tell them they are worth an extra $200 this year, but next year they are not.

To simply “share the wealth” from tax collections is inappropriate use of public money in the GUARDIAN’s opinion.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. I guess my take on this issue is that the decision on whether to award a bonus should be left to the sound discretion of that person’s supervisor, whether they are in the private or public sector. It should be merit based and that there ought to be some objective factors that figure into it so the supervisor’s discretion can be evaluated for fairness like those suggested by the Guardian.

    The blanket bonus at the City does seem to be ridding a surplus but it could also be viewed as a retoractive one time pay raise for a job well done. It could also be viewed as the City buying some loyalty or goodwill from their employees, which is a valid use of the funds by a good manager. The money is probably funnelled right back into the local economy anyway. Everyone wins.

    The “at will” doctrine is state law. Unless the parties agree otherwise all employment relationships in the state can be terminated at the will of either party. Now I’m not saying that’s fair but if you think new County employees ought to have more job security why not everyone. I have a hard time envisioning that the recent County action changing that status applies to existing employees but I may be wrong. I suspect that might be illegal however without the consent of the people who started their employment with the understanding they could only be dismissed for cause.

    EDITOR NOTE–Sis, my views were based on changing the rules for existing employees which seems wrong as you say. As for buying city employee loyalty, three councilors and the mayor are up for election this year!

  2. All county employees will be “at will” come this spring, regardless of tenure. I doubt there will be mass firings, but it does not mean that some of the fears are not justified. Especially when recruitment comes to mind. After all, if you want an employee to be loyal (do a good job, be honest, risk them selves above and beyond) , you have to show some loyalty to them.

    Loyalty goes beyond simple pay, its about respect and trust. The “at will” move, warranted or not, strains trust and loyalty.

    Regarding bonuses, apparently there is a difference in the law that allows a city or private organization to give bonuses when a county or state cant.

    And finally, if you want your county or city employees to do a good job, especially those in vital and sensitive functions (law enforcement for example), they need job security to keep their mind on their job and not on where next months rent is coming from. The last thing you want a deputy to wonder is if they will get fired for pissing in the wrong batch of cheerios, even if justified.

    Put yourself in their shoes. Would you be cautious about it?

  3. Guardian You Suck
    Jan 11, 2007, 8:10 pm

    A lot of your readers are government employees. I for one am done reading your column since all you can do is bash the hard work we do on a daily basis. It’s one thing to trash the leadership but another to go after the people who bust their butts everyday. The Guradian has lost it’s way. Public servants work for crap wages and deal with a constantly complaining public. It’s to bad there is not a blog out there that actually supports the hard work done by the public sector who know everything does not revolve around profits.

    EDITOR NOTE–You need to read again. The GUARDIAN supports giving you a fair wage, promotions, step increases, overtime, and even BONUSES for “above and beyond.” We also oppose the “at will” policy of the county. We do NOT support across the board one time payments just to eat up windfall “profits.”

    If the council wishes to give pay increases they should be up front and BUDGET the increases. Your comments are unwarranted.

  4. Two things:
    1. Is the large “bonuses” every department head gets at the end of every year budgeted?
    2. How is overtime an employee benifit? They ask for a worker to miss time with their family, they should pay time and a half for that. Win win or loss loss depends how you look at it.

    EDITOR NOTE–You people are tough! If someone works extra they should be paid extra and the law says anything over 40 hours a week is worth overtime rate.

  5. In theory I agree with the guardian. But I have to say that I find it ironic and somewhat hypocritical that our fine Idaho conservatives are apalled at public employees receiving bonuses but seem completely uncritical and even supportive of the outrageous bonuses that corporate CEOs receive, which never really seems to “trickle down” to the hard workers. And, since our tax dollars subsidize these corporations through tax breaks etc there is a vested public interest. I guess it goes back to the conservative value of: government bad, big business good.

  6. Sis…Are you sure “at will” is a state doctrine? I assume you meant state law. I don’t see it in any of the statutes.

    The county move to at-will is so chicken. I imagine most of the middle to upper management idiots convinced a commisioner this was a good idea. It is not a good idea. Just gives the boss a chance to exercise a little bit of hate and discrimination .

  7. I must admit, this item astounds me. Every job I have ever held as been “at will”. If you screw up too much, your gone.

    Why should the public sector be treated any different? City/County staffers that won’t respond, Planning department employees that ignore the public’s input, health department inspectors that are unrealistic, public employees that are rude to the public, welfare case workers that show no real interest in their jobs, have frustrated ALL of us at one point or another. I really doubt if a police officer thinks about being fired if he/she screws up. I would bet they think ” if I screw this up, someone will get hurt or die!”

    An “at will” status simply allows us to weed out those examples of public sector employees previously mentioned.

  8. Ferris,
    I think Idaho is still an “at will” state. I think it might be in the administrative procedures someplace. The three exceptions are “implied contract”, “breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing”, and “against public policy”.

    So if you are fired for anything other than something that falls in those three, you’re fired. I still contend that government employees are entitled to due process of law in matters where they are deprived of a property right (termination, demotion, suspension without pay). That’s because government can’t strip anyone of a property right without due process.

    That means a hearing before somebody who will listen to both sides of the story and make a decision. Right away in goverment no matter how “at will” you want to be…you’d better have a good reason for terminating someone and have all your documentation in order.

  9. Hi Feris. I’m pretty sure the “at will” doctrine is a common law doctrine which means it was adopted probably from either neighboring jurisdictions or English common law through Idaho Supreme Court case precedent probably back around the time Idaho became a state and robber barons ruled the roost.

    It is certainly within the power of the legislature to change it but Idaho has traditionally been very employer friendly. See for example the so called “right to work” statutes. With Republicans in power it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

    I’m aware of a circumstance that received some publicity a while back where a county employee angered the Commissioners because he or she refused to work nights and weekends without compensation in order to prepare for upcoming hearings. I understood from the reports that the employee was consequently fired and I believe the employee pursued legal remedies but I don’t know how or if the dispute was ever concluded.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this or a similar circumstance caused the Commissioners to re-evaluate the personnel policies within County government to give them an upper hand in the event of future employment disputes. I agree it doesn’t lead to a positive working environment. This heavy handed decision is how unions get formed and laws get changed.

    Cyclops, your analysis is a little misleading. “If you screw up” is firing for cause which is the the opposite side of the “at will” coin. The at will doctrine permits an employer to dismiss you without any reason at all. This allows the employer to make arbitrary decisions on personnel matters without worry that the employee has legal recourse for compensation for that arbitrary decision.

    Lastly in fairness to the Guardian his focus tends to be on how public money is spent and I don’t interpret his comments to be against public employees, per se. I do note that the only factors he chose to bonus public employees are for exposing corruption and inefficiency. I’m not sure how practical that is because I don’t think its likely that a manager will take too well to a subordinate pointing these types of problems that occur under that manager’s watch. I prefer that managers have wide discretion in making bonus decisions. That’s why they are managers and if they don’t properly motivate their employees then they shouldn’t get a bonus.

    EDITOR NOTE–The employe who was fired and sought remedy did indeed win with the state labor authorities and received some back overtime compensation. No doubt that action caused the change in the ordinance.

  10. The employee in the Assessor’s office who won the overtime and wrongful termination case would have been protected under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, at the very least.

    Much as the commishes might like to, they cannot deprive County employees of their federal and state employment rights, even with the adoption of the at-will policy. If this was the situation they were trying to correct, they failed. Well, they failed anyway, but that’s another story….

  11. You know Cyclops, I Absolutely agree with 90% of what your said. Those are the very arguments I have against unions (the IAFF in particular) in public safety ( I am for unions in private sector and in education).

    The concern isnt when a deputy is in a life or death position, its when he/she is doing his daily duties. What if he pulls over (for example) a county commisioner for DUI? Does he write them, or does he give them a pass. Is he more likely to give them a pass if he knows they can fire him with out due process?

    Or the commissioners Daughter, Or someone who contributes to their campaign, or the CEO of Micron or HP? The list goes on and on of prominent or otherwise “sensitive” personalities/situations that deputies (and Paramedics, and Firefighters) interact with, sometimes in a volatile situation)…the due process formerly provided helped ensure that a deputy, or other public employee was only terminated after due process and only for reasons having to due to with performance. That is gone, and the only other method to ensure protection for the empoloyees is to unionize.

    Unionization of public employees will have far more negative aspects than positive (I know the IAFF members on here will disagree) , but the county commissioners are rapidly removing any reasons for employees (especially the Sheriffs and Paramedics) not to attempt it.

  12. Can’t disagree (much) with Dave’s thinking on this one. His criteria might be a little narrow for bonuses, but he has the right idea. Most state employees wouldn’t argue much with this view if they received something akin to inflationary adjustments. Unfortunately, EVERY additional dollar put into state employee raises is called “merit.” Never mind that most years the “merit” increase doesn’t even keep up with inflation. Imagine how insulting it is to be a high performing state employee whose “merit” raise only means he effectively lost one or two percent purchasing power over the preceding year. Huge incentive there, what?

    Bonuses should be tied to some specific act (heroic or economic in Dave’s world). But, because the Legislature is so niggardly about compensation, bonuses are about the only tool agency directors have with which they can attempt to retain employees who keep falling further behind.

  13. At Will. Right to Work. Right to Starve. Doesn’t it all mean I can quit or be fired at a moment’s notice for no reason? Why do you think most organizations pay their employees anywhere from 2 weeks to a month behind what the employees really work?

    I know which of the three councilors and mayor that I am not voting for this year!

    I don’t get overtime pay. If I work an extra hour I get an hour off.

    Business is good. Capitalism is good. Predatory business or capitalism is as bad as socialism, Marxism, Communisum, etc.

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