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- Inconsistent and Unjustified Qualification Decisions and Examination Scores Raise Concerns About the Impartiality of the Commission's Decisions
- The Commission's Policies and Practices Do Not Ensure Prompt Compensation for All Out-of-Class Work
- The Commission Does Not Adequately Address All Complaints and Protect Complainants
- Other Areas We Reviewed
Inconsistent and Unjustified Qualification Decisions and Examination Scores Raise Concerns About the Impartiality of the Commission's Decisions
- The Commission has inconsistently evaluated some of its applicants, revealing weaknesses in its examination processes that highlight the need for the Commission to notify applicants of the reasons they were disqualified. Out of a selection of 119 candidates that examiners disqualified for failure to meet the minimum qualifications, we identified inconsistencies in the evaluation of five applicants.
- In addition, raters provided inconsistent scores of the performance of some of those candidates taking examinations. For 25 candidates whom we reviewed who met minimum qualifications and advanced to the examination process, raters provided inconsistent scores for nine. These included candidates whose scores on individual evaluation factors were equivalent or higher than those given to a second candidate, who nevertheless received a higher overall score than the first candidate. These scoring inconsistencies suggest that raters either based their scores on factors other than those defined for the examination or they weighted factors differently for different candidates; as a result, the eligibility lists the Commission provided to District hiring managers may not have included all of the most qualified candidates.
- Raters also provided minimal or no justification to explain the scores they had assigned to some candidates. The Commission's guidance encourages but does not require raters to justify all scores, decreasing the Commission's ability to identify whether raters are being consistent in their ratings or if raters are basing candidates' overall scores on factors other than the established criteria.
Commission Staff Made Inconsistent Decisions in the Examination Process, and Used Ambiguous Terms to Describe Minimum Qualifications
The Commission made inconsistent decisions concerning the minimum qualifications of some applicants. To assess whether the Commission's examination process was consistent and fair, we reviewed applications for 13 of the 319 employment examinations the Commission administered and applications for two provisional positions that the Commission posted from July 2016 through September 2020.Provisional positions are vacancies that the District can temporarily fill if an eligibility list does not exist or there are insufficient names on the existing list. We judgmentally selected up to 10 applicants for each of the examinations and provisional positions we reviewed, for a total of 144 applicants. The Commission disqualified 119 of these applicants based on minimum qualification screening, and it passed the remaining 25. Although the Commission had appropriately disqualified the majority of the applicants we reviewed, we identified concerns with five disqualified applications that revealed inconsistencies in the Commission's processes, as demonstrated in the examples below.
In one instance, an examiner cited her own knowledge of an applicant's current District position as grounds for disqualifying the applicant (Applicant A) even though Applicant A described having more relevant experience than another applicant who was deemed qualified. As Figure 3 shows, the position in question required applicants to have experience related to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) or related areas. The examiner explained to us that she determined—based on her knowledge of Applicant A's job with the District and past applications—that Applicant A did not meet the minimum experience requirements. However, Applicant A described in their application having dealt with complaints related to discrimination and harassment, which can relate to EEO, as well as having experience with civil rights investigative and compliance matters. In contrast, Applicant B only described experience investigating labor practices, primarily related to wage and contractor compliance. However, the Commission accepted Applicant B's application, despite the fact that Applicant B did not specifically reference experience with EEO or related areas. Notably, the examiner was familiar with Applicant A, who was a current District employee, while Applicant B was an external candidate.
The Commission also appears to have made some qualification decisions based on internal applicants' District job titles rather than the experience they described in their applications. For one examination the Commission disqualified multiple applicants who did not have jobs that it considered to be on the promotional path for the classification for which they were applying, stating that their current positions and experience were not "professional level," an undefined term used in describing the minimum qualifications for that classification. In one case, the Commission noted that when it contacted the supervisor of the applicant it disqualified, the supervisor supported the applicant's description in their application of the duties they performed. Nevertheless, the Commission disqualified the applicant. In contrast, it determined that another applicant, whose current job classification's duties were similar to those the disqualified applicant described having performed, did meet the minimum qualifications for the classification, noting that the applicant's job was on the promotional path.
A Commission Examiner Evaluated Two Similar Applicants' Minimum Qualifications Inconsistently
Source: Job applications, job announcement, and interviews with Commission staff.
Note: The number of years of qualifying experience required varies depending on the applicant's education level.
When we asked why the Commission did not consider each of these applicants to be qualified, the assistant director referenced the classification descriptions for the District jobs the applicants held rather than addressing the duties they described performing while holding those jobs. However, basing a qualification decision on the general duties defined for a classification, rather than the experience the applicant describes in his or her application, particularly when the applicant's supervisor confirms the applicant's experience, does not allow for the possibility that the applicant has performed duties other than those generally defined for the classification. This practice does not appear to align with requirements that the merit system select employees on the basis of merit and fitness. If the Commission truly believes that internal candidates working only in specific positions have the necessary experience for a given position, it should describe time spent working in those positions—or equivalent experience—as minimum qualifications rather than using a more subjective description of "professional-level" experience.
Similarly, the Commission disqualified one applicant for an executive assistant examination, in part because it determined they did not have experience providing assistance to an executive as specified in the minimum qualifications, but it accepted the applications of other applicants who likewise did not provide assistance to an executive. Specifically, it disqualified the applicant because it did not consider their supervisor, an office administrator, to be an executive or high‑level administrator. The examiner and assistant director explained that the Commission was looking for applicants with experience as assistants to vice presidents, assistant directors, deans, or similar level positions. The assistant director also referenced the fact that the disqualified applicant performed work for an entire office rather than for a specific executive or administrator. However, the Commission accepted as qualified a number of applicants who described providing administrative support for offices rather than an individual, or reported to a store manager or plant operations supervisor—rather than an executive or a high-level administrator.
As described above, the Commission has used ambiguous terms in its descriptions of minimum qualifications, which likely confused applicants and increases uncertainty in the qualification process. Specifically, for six of 10 examinations whose minimum qualifications we reviewed, the Commission used general terms such as "professional-level" and "recent" to describe the experience required for an applicant to qualify. However, the Commission did not define the meaning of these terms. Similarly, for one of these positions, the Commission stated that applicants must have experience in "a medium to large public agency or corporation." The Commission did not define in the job announcement we reviewed what "medium to large" meant. Because the Commission did not define these terms, some individuals applied for jobs for which they may have believed they met the minimum qualifications but did not. For example, the Commission disqualified two applicants for a position requiring experience with a "medium to large organization" because it determined their former or current employers had fewer than 500 employees. However, this specific numerical standard was not shared with these applicants.
The State's Definition of Professional Employee
The term "professional employee" means the following:
Any employee engaged in work:
- predominantly intellectual and varied in character as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work;
- involving the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment in its performance;
- of such a character that the output produced or the result accomplished cannot be standardized in relation to a given period of time;
- requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study in an institution of higher learning or a hospital, as distinguished from a general academic education or from an apprenticeship or from training in the performance of routine mental, manual, or physical processes;
Any employee who:
- has completed the courses of specialized intellectual instruction and study described in the fourth bullet above, and
- is performing related work under the supervision of a professional person to qualify himself to become a professional employee as defined above.
Source: State law.
The Commission is taking steps to address its ambiguous language. For example, the assistant director stated that the Commission revised minimum qualifications for examinations that required applicants to have experience working for "medium to large" organizations after receiving numerous inquiries from applicants asking how the Commission defined this term. Similarly, after our inquiries regarding its definitions of "professional-level" and "recent," the assistant director informed us that in March 2021 it added definitions of these terms for its staff in its Selection Process Procedure Manual (manual). The assistant director further asserted that the Commission trained its staff on the definitions of these terms in the past although we could not review the definitions because she stated this training was verbal. However, the lack of a formal written definition in the past raises questions about the consistency with which the Commission has applied these terms. In contrast, although the State provides state agencies with a general definition of professional experience by defining the term "professional employee," as described in the text box, the State Personnel Board recommends that state agencies consider revising minimum qualifications to remove the term professional experience and include a definition of the specific required experience. If a state agency continues to use the term professional experience, the State Personnel Board recommends that it modify the minimum qualifications to provide a specific definition, clarify acceptable and unacceptable experience, and add clarification to the examination bulletin for applicants.
The Commission's practices for assessing minimum qualifications have had a number of negative consequences. By inconsistently disqualifying applicants and failing to define the terms it has used to describe minimum qualifications, the Commission may have reduced some applicants' trust in its examination process. Responses to the union survey that the Introduction describes include allegations that qualification decisions were made off of a predetermined list and that the Commission engaged in preferential treatment and discrimination. Further, during the course of this audit, a number of District employees told us that the Commission had disqualified them for positions for which they believed they met minimum qualifications. Regardless of whether these employees' perceptions are justified or misplaced, a lack of trust in the Commission's decisions is harmful to employee morale and the District's ability to attract and retain qualified employees.
The Commission's Process for Notifying Applicants of Disqualification Does Not Promote Transparency
The Commission's method of informing examination applicants that it has disqualified them does not promote transparency and trust in its process or align with the practices of similar entities. Although the Commission may disqualify applicants for a number of reasons, the notification it sends them does not disclose the reason. Instead, the notices state only that some applicants met the Commission's needs more than others. Although the Commission's application and examination system tracks the general reason for applicants' disqualification, the assistant director stated it would be time‑consuming for staff to enter the disqualification reason into each applicant's notice and that staff will explain the reason applicants were disqualified if they call the Commission to ask. However, the notices do not advise applicants that they can call to obtain this information.
Informing applicants of the basis for their disqualification would increase transparency and might reduce District employees' perception that the Commission is abusing its discretion or arbitrarily disqualifying applicants. We reviewed documentation showing that a number of applicants had contacted the Commission to request information about why they were disqualified or to appeal the disqualification decision. In two of those instances, applicants had to reach out multiple times or speak at a Commission meeting before the Commission provided a specific reason for disqualification, and in one instance Commission staff initially stated that the Commission does not provide explanations to candidates regarding why they do not meet minimum qualifications. For a third applicant, the former director explained only that there was no appeal process and that the applicant did not meet minimum qualifications.
After we brought these issues to the attention of the Commission, they provided us several examples where staff responded appropriately to questions about disqualifications. However, the Commission should consistently respond to all applicants. In contrast, three other entities we spoke with that are responsible for administering merit systems all stated that they either provide the reason for a disqualification in the notice they send to applicants or inform applicants of how to obtain the reason. Two of these entities allow applicants a five-day period to contact them if they believe they have been disqualified in error and want to appeal the decision, and the third allows applicants 10 days to submit additional information and 30 days to appeal a decision. Although Commission rules state there is no appeal process for failure to meet minimum qualifications, establishing such a process would likely strengthen applicants' trust in the Commission's examination process and reduce the likelihood of the Commission inappropriately disqualifying applicants by providing them an opportunity to clarify information that they provide.
The Commission Lacks Sufficient Guidelines for Scoring Its Examinations, Allowing Raters to Score Candidates' Performances Inconsistently
The Commission could also increase trust in its examination process by taking steps to better ensure that its raters are consistent as they score candidates. State law requires that examinations be administered objectively and it gives the Commission the authority to prescribe rules as may be necessary to ensure the selection and retention of employees upon the basis of merit and fitness. In addition, the Commission's rules state it will select tests that assure objective testing procedures. However, the Commission generally allows raters to assign their own weights to individual evaluation factors, and it does not require them to determine a candidate's overall score using the candidate's ratings on the individual factors. This discretion increases the possibility of raters' assigning candidates overall scores based on subjective factors. Indeed, when reviewing the score sheets for the 25 candidates in our selection whom the Commission determined were qualified, we found that raters' overall scores often did not align with the ratings they assigned for the individual evaluation factors. For example, as Figure 4 shows, a rater provided Candidate A with the same or higher ratings than Candidate B for each evaluation factor; however, the rater then gave Candidate B a higher overall score. We describe these instances as scoring inconsistencies.
Two Candidates' Overall Scores Did Not Align With Their Ratings on Individual Evaluation Factors
Source: Commission rating sheets, Commission rater orientation materials, and Commission staff interviews.
Note: The Commission allows raters to assign their own weights to individual factors and does not require them to base overall scores on the ratings for individual evaluation factors.
These scoring inconsistencies call into question the impartiality of the Commission's examinations and the validity of the eligibility lists it provides to hiring managers. We found that individual raters inconsistently scored the scoring sheets for more than one‑third (nine) of the 25 candidates we reviewed. When we asked the Commission to explain these inconsistencies, the assistant director did not address the specific cases. Instead, she generally asserted that raters are subject matter experts and that the Commission therefore gives them the discretion to assign weights to individual evaluation factors. She further stated that overall scores do not need to be an arithmetical average of individual factors and that a candidate who scored highly on the most important factors could receive a higher overall score than one who scored highly on less important factors.
However, this explanation is not logical given the nature of the inconsistencies we identified. As Figure 4 shows, Candidate A received the same or higher ratings on each evaluation factor but received a lower overall score than Candidate B. Similarly, Figure 5 shows the individual evaluation factor ratings and overall scores that a single rater gave to three candidates for the same examination. Although the rater gave Candidate D the lowest evaluation factor ratings, the rater gave this person an overall score only one point less than Candidate E's and eight points higher than Candidate C—whose ratings were equivalent to or higher than Candidate D's. These scoring inconsistencies suggest that raters made mistakes in calculating overall scores, do not have sufficient guidance to calculate overall scores consistently, scored candidates on factors other than those defined in the examination, or weighted factors differently for different candidates.
A Comparison of Candidates' Individual Evaluation Factor Ratings Suggests That Raters Based Their Overall Scores on Other Factors
Source: Commission rating sheets, Commission rater orientation materials, and Commission staff interviews.
Note: The Commission allows raters to assign their own weights to individual factors and does not require them to base overall scores on the ratings for individual evaluation factors.
Inconsistent scoring had a direct impact on these applicants' job prospects. Based in part on the raters' overall scores, the Commission assigned Candidate C an eligibility list rank of 5, which was not high enough to merit an interview for an open position. Generally, state law governing personnel commissions requires all vacancies be filled with eligible candidates whose scores place them in the first three ranks on the eligibility list and who are ready and willing to accept the position. The executive assistant explained that hiring managers can only interview eligible candidates in lower ranks if eligible candidates in higher ranks are not ready and willing to accept the position. According to Commission rules, if there are fewer than three eligible candidates in the first and second ranks, hiring managers must interview all eligible candidates in the first, second, and third ranks. The Commission states on its website that one of its goals is to select employees on the basis of merit after fair and open competition. However, by allowing scoring inconsistencies between applicants, the Commission is not ensuring that raters treat all candidates fairly, and it increases the risk that in some cases the District is not hiring the most qualified candidates because they incorrectly receive overall scores that are too low to merit consideration for an interview.
From Commission Scoring Sheets
- Weak: Did not demonstrate basic competence in this area; lacks critical aspect(s) of this factor.
- Marginal: Lacks some aspect(s) of this factor; you would not expect to see much effectiveness in this area.
- Acceptable: Shows good, basic competence in this area. It is neither a particular strength nor a detriment to performance.
- Good: Demonstrates above average competence in this area. It is an area of particular strength.
- Strong: Shows great expertise/capability in this area and would demonstrate considerable effectiveness in performance.
Source: Commission examination scoring sheet for the position of general foreman.
Note: The Commission's rating definitions contain minor phrasing differences for some examinations.
Further, the Commission's practices and guidelines do not identify or prevent such scoring inconsistencies. According to the assistant director, examiners cannot require raters to change their scores, but they can ask two or more raters of the same candidate to discuss the candidate further if they differ by more than 10 points in their overall scores. Similarly, the Commission's guidance to raters generally focuses on inconsistencies between different raters on a panel. For example, the guidance suggests that if raters' scores for a candidate differ by more than 10 points, they may be evaluating the candidate based on different criteria and further discussion may be necessary. The guidance does not address scoring inconsistencies by the same rater or steps the raters should take to avoid these inconsistencies.
Other entities that are responsible for administering merit systems more clearly define how raters must calculate scores, which helps prevent inconsistencies and reduces the risk of subjectivity. Three entities we spoke with all provide their raters with detailed definitions for rating candidates on each evaluation factor (scoring benchmarks), which they require raters to use. In contrast, the Commission's rating sheets provide only brief, general definitions, as the text box shows. In addition, one agency stated that its rating sheets establish the weight of each individual evaluation factor in the calculation of a candidate's overall score, while the other two entities define the number of points awarded for candidates' accomplishing specific tasks or providing specific answers. Establishing more detailed procedures for its examination process, such as scoring benchmarks and weights, would give the Commission greater assurance that its raters are scoring candidates consistently and objectively and, thus, that the Commission is ranking candidates on the eligibility list fairly and impartially.
Some Raters Provided Minimal Comments to Justify the Scores They Awarded, Limiting the Commission's Ability to Ensure They Based the Scores on the Established Examination Factors
Some raters did not adequately justify their scores with comments explaining the basis for those scores. Although the Commission's rules do not require raters to leave comments, its guidelines for raters indicate that their ratings of individual evaluation factors and written comments should support or justify the overall score they assign to candidates. Further, the rating sheets for four of the five examinations that we reviewed directed raters to add an explanation if they recommended that a candidate not be hired. Commission guidelines also instruct raters to avoid generalizations and to be specific if they note critical shortcomings. Nevertheless, as Figure 6 shows, some raters provided insufficient justification of their scores on rating sheets for 19 of the 25 candidates we reviewed.
Based on the Commission's guidance, a rater who fails a candidate—or assigns them less than a passing score—should describe specific areas of concern and explain why the candidate is not a good fit for the job. Nonetheless, one rater who failed a candidate and scored them as weak or marginal in three evaluation factors and as acceptable—the middle‑level score—in four evaluation factors commented on the rating sheet that the candidate was "not quite ready" for the position, but did not provide specific reasons to explain why they assigned the candidate an overall score that was not high enough for the candidate to proceed to the next stage of the examination process. In addition, we identified two raters who each failed a candidate but did not provide a single comment to explain why, although the directions for the rating sheet explicitly direct raters to explain the reasons why they would not hire the candidate for the job.
The Commission failed to adequately enforce its guidelines instructing raters to justify their scores for candidates they fail. The Commission's instructions for examiners require them to review each completed rating sheet. When we asked the assistant director why the Commission did not identify the instances in which raters did not follow the guidelines, she suggested that the raters might not have had enough time to leave comments or might have felt that their evaluation factor ratings provided enough detail. However, she agreed that examiners should have instructed raters who failed candidates to leave comments justifying their decisions. Further, the director stated that he has instructed staff not to use any rater who demonstrates an inability to comply with the guidelines.
Comments also serve additional purposes. For example, one candidate appealed her examination results because of concerns that the raters interviewing her were biased by her late arrival. The examiner stated in his appeal decision that based on his review of the raters' notes, he was able to determine that they made their decision based on factors unrelated to the candidate's arrival time. When raters do not leave comments, the Commission's ability to adequately defend its scores against an appeal is weakened. Moreover, one of the other entities with which we spoke instructs raters to leave comments to serve as developmental feedback should a candidate review the ratings.
The Raters Provided Minimal or No Justification to Support Their Ratings for 19 of the 25 Candidates We Reviewed
Source: Commission rating sheets.
Although the Commission also retained raters' informal notes from some candidate interviews, the majority of the notes we reviewed described candidates' answers rather than assessed their performance. Further, the notes do not improve the transparency of the rating process or allow candidates to review and improve their performance. The assistant director stated that the Commission provides candidates with only the comments that raters make on the rating sheets.
Although the Commission's orientation materials encourage raters to leave comments for all candidates, the Commission does not require raters to leave comments for the candidates that they pass. However, other entities we reviewed emphasize the importance of such explanations. One of the entities specifically directs raters to "take lots of notes" because they are useful to improve both the applicants' future performance and the validity of the raters' scoring. As we describe in the previous section, several Commission raters provided inconsistent scores to candidates they reviewed, which makes justification of scores even more critical. Because the Commission allows its raters such wide latitude in deriving an overall score from the individual rating factors, written justifications for those scores are necessary to understand how raters reached their decisions, regardless of whether the candidate failed the examination. In addition, they are an important safeguard to reduce the likelihood that raters based their scores on factors other than a candidate's performance on the examination.
To increase the objectivity and transparency of its minimum qualification requirements, when possible the Commission should create qualification requirements based on time spent working in District job classifications or equivalent experience, rather than using ambiguous terms such as "professional-level."
To increase transparency and ensure that it makes consistent decisions when assessing applicants' minimum qualifications, the Commission should establish a rule for its examiners by October 2021 that defines the key terms it uses when reviewing applications for minimum qualifications, such as "professional‑level" and "recent."
To ensure that its examination process is fair and evaluates all candidates consistently, the Commission should establish the following rules by October 2021:
- Require examiners to provide disqualification notices that describe their reasons for disqualifying an applicant.
- Require examiners to create detailed scoring benchmarks that provide raters guidance on how to rate individual evaluation factors.
- When creating examinations, establish a method for determining candidates' overall scores based on the ratings of the individual evaluation factors.
- Require raters to provide written comments on rating sheets for each candidate, explaining the basis for the score they awarded.
- Require examiners to review scoring sheets to determine if raters have followed the Commission's candidate evaluation guidance, and if the raters have failed to follow the guidance request that the raters review their evaluation of the candidate.
To promote transparency in its application process and to minimize the perception that it arbitrarily disqualifies applicants, the Commission should revise its rules by October 2021 to implement an appeal process for applicants who it has determined do not meet minimum qualifications for a position.
The Commission's Policies and Practices Do Not Ensure Prompt Compensation for All Out-of-Class Work
- The Commission generally does not approve employees' claims for work performed out of class until the employees have completed their out-of-class assignments. As a result, employees may perform higher-level duties for many months before receiving compensation for performing those duties.
- Although the Commission generally does not approve employees' out-of-class work claims until their higher-level assignments have concluded, it denies a portion of the employees' compensation if they do not submit their claim within a set number of days after beginning their out-of-class work.
The Commission's Practices Delay Compensation for Employees Temporarily Performing Higher-Level Responsibilities
District supervisors sometimes assign work to an employee that does not fall within that employee's job classification. Under certain circumstances, employees who are required to perform duties inconsistent with those assigned to their position may submit a claim to the Commission to determine whether they are entitled to an appropriate increase in compensation. Generally, under state law and Commission rules, employees required to perform duties inconsistent with those of their position on more than five days of a 15-day period may have their compensation increased for the higher-level duties performed. To claim this compensation, the employees must—among other things—identify the specific time period during which they performed the higher-level duties and describe in detail the duties which they believe to be inconsistent with or not reasonably related to the duties of their regular class.
We evaluated the Commission's decisions for six of the 22 out-of-class work claims it considered from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2019, and found that it consistently applied its rules. However, the Commission's rules do not set requirements for when it should process or approve out-of-class claims, and its practice is to approve payment for the entire assignment after the conclusion of the out-of-class work, as Figure 7 shows.
The Commission Typically Does Not Approve Any Payments for Out-of-Class Work Until the Assignment Is Concluded
Source: Commission rules, out-of-class claims, out-of-class claim form, and interviews with District staff.
As a result, for five of the six out-of-class claims we reviewed, employees did not receive payment until five to 11 months after they began the higher-level work, as Figure 8 shows. Some of this delay is related to the time needed to process these claims. For example, for each of the out-of-class claims, the Commission evaluates whether the duties reported and certified were at a higher level, determines an appropriate difference in compensation between the employee's classification and the classification normally assigned the out‑of-class duties, and submits the claim to the commissioners for approval.
The Commission's Approach to Compensating Out-of-Class Work Results in Months of Payment Delays
Source: Analysis of Commission out-of-class work claim records, Commission meeting minutes, and payroll documentation.
Note: As discussed later in this section, the Commission made multiple payments to the employee who submitted Claim 5.
The Board's approval process and the District's subsequent processing of the payment added an average of two months to the time frame for the six claims we reviewed, and these steps took more than four months in one case. However, the remaining delay was largely attributable to the fact that the Commission typically does not approve claims until an employee has submitted all claims after an out-of-class work assignment ends. As the text box describes, the State uses a different method of calculating out-of-class compensation. That method improves its ability to make timely payments but does not result in additional compensation if employees spend a greater proportion of time working out of class than the minimum necessary to qualify for payment.
Compensating Work Out of Class:
The District's approach: Its out-of-class compensation reflects the level and nature of the assigned responsibilities, the difference in compensation between the employee's classification and the classification that normally performs the assigned responsibilities, and the percent of time the employee performs the assigned out-of-class duties during a given pay period. As a result, Commission staff cannot calculate the compensation amount for a given pay period until that pay period ends and the employee submits a claim.
The State's approach: Its payments for out-of-class work are generally based on the employee's salary, the nature of the out-of-class duties, and the number of days spent performing those duties, but they do not vary based on the proportion of the employee's time spent working out of class each day. Generally, an employee is considered to be working out of class if he or she performs the full range of duties and responsibilities of another classification for more than 50 percent of the time over the course of at least two consecutive weeks. When he or she is found to be working out of class, he or she receives the rate of pay for the higher classification level. Thus, if the employee meets the 50 percent requirement, the compensation is not affected by spending a higher percentage of time on duties outside his or her classification. Although the employee's compensation will not increase if he or she spends a greater proportion of time performing out-of-class work, the State's payments for out-of-class work can be made in a more timely manner than those made by the Commission.
Source: Interviews and analysis of state and Commission policies and rules related to out-of-class work.
The Commission's rationale for processing employees' compensation in its current manner is questionable. According to the assistant director, it is more efficient for Commission staff, the Board, and the District's payroll department to approve all of an employee's claims at once instead of each claim individually. The assistant director stated that processing claims more regularly would require additional work for staff to compile the reports and place the issues on the Commission's meeting agendas, for management to review the reports, and for the commissioners to review the claims. However, the assistant director could not estimate the average number of hours it takes to process a work‑out‑of‑class claim, instead citing factors that can vary by claim. As a result, it is not possible to estimate how much additional work would result from processing multiple payments for each claim. However, the Commission's handling of Claim 5—which we describe in more detail below—suggests that it can process subsequent payments for the same claim more efficiently. It processed multiple payments to this employee for her out‑of‑class work and processed her final claim and provided it to the commissioners for approval less than a week after the employee finished performing the out‑of‑class work.
The Commission could alter its practices to approve employees' compensation for working out of class in a more timely manner, which would encourage employees to submit their claim forms as soon as they are able to do so. The Commission could process payments monthly to coincide with its monthly Board meetings. The Commission considered only 22 out-of-class claims in the three-year period we reviewed, which suggests that the additional work necessary to process these claims each month would not dramatically increase the Commission's workload. By processing out‑of-class payments monthly, the Commission would likely decrease the time between employees' performing out-of-class work and submitting their claims. This would provide two benefits. The assistant director and two personnel analysts indicated that the less time that passes between when an employee works out of class and when that employee submits a claim, the more information staff and supervisors are generally able to recall about the work performed. Additionally, it would reduce some District employees' frustrations with the lengthy amount of time that they must wait to receive their pay for working out of class. Two respondents to a Commission employee experience survey specifically expressed concerns about the amount of time it takes to be paid for out‑of‑class work.
The Commission sometimes approves partial payments while an employee completes an out-of-class work assignment rather than waiting until after the work is complete. Claim 5 in Figure 8 involved an employee for whom the Commission processed and approved intermittent payments. According to the assistant director, the Commission felt it would have been harmful to the employee to withhold payment for the work because the campus was not following through with the hiring process to fill the vacant position for which the employee was performing duties. When we asked why it was harmful to withhold payment in this case but not in others, she stated that the Commission staff use their professional judgment but would process a claim in this way if an employee specifically requests it or if extenuating circumstances exist, particularly if those circumstances are related to the administration or management. However, the Commission does not proactively inform employees of this option, nor does it clearly describe this in its rules or on the out-of-class claim form.
Other claims we reviewed involved longer time frames and larger amounts of money than Claim 5 yet did not result in intermittent payments. Of the six claims we reviewed, four were for larger amounts and, in one instance, an employee worked out of class for nearly six months before the Commission approved his out‑of‑class compensation of $12,000, which he did not receive until four months later. Although the Commission may not have been able to predict the duration or value of these out-of-class assignments when they began, its practices resulted in excessive delays in compensation and inconsistent treatment for some employees. These practices do not appear to be in the District's best interests. Research shows that employees' perceptions of equity or fairness have a significant relationship to absenteeism and turnover. Requiring most employees to wait to receive additional pay until their out-of-class assignment has concluded while some receive pay intermittently would likely increase employees' perception that they are being treated unfairly.
The Commission Did Not Approve Full Compensation for the Out‑Of‑Class Work of Employees Who Missed Deadlines for Submitting Claims
During the period we reviewed, the Commission's rules generally required employees to submit claims for out-of-class work no later than 100 days after the first day they performed higher‑level duties. We refer to this requirement as the 100-day limit. Generally, classified employees must identify the specific time period during which the higher duties were performed and if the work was performed intermittently, the employee must have performed the duties for five or more working days within each 15 calendar-day period. Generally, if the Commission receives the first of these claims more than 100 days after the employee began working out of class, it processes the claim but does not include compensation for the out-of-class work the employee performed that occurred more than 100 days before the date it received the claim. The Commission's rules allow for exceptions to the 100‑day limit in certain circumstances, such as when there is credible documentation of "a mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect by an employee or supervisor." However, the exception specifically excludes instances in which a lack of knowledge of the out-of-class rule caused the untimely filing of the claim. The out‑of‑class claim form describes the 100-day limit; however, the form did not disclose the exception until February 2021, after we had questioned the Commission about this issue.
For two of the six out-of-class claims that we reviewed, the Commission received the employees' first claim more than 100 days after the employees began the out-of-class work. As a result, the Commission excluded from both individuals' compensation the additional work they performed that occurred more than 100 days before the Commission received their claims. Although the Commission did not calculate the value of this work, we estimated the employees would have been compensated 5 percent or 13 percent more, respectively, based on the amounts they received for the periods for which they were compensated.
As we describe previously, the Commission's general practice is to approve payment for the entire assignment after the conclusion of the out-of-class work. However, based on the 100-day limit, the Commission did not approve payment for a portion of the out-of-class work these two employees performed, despite the fact that they were still performing out-of-class work when they submitted their initial claims. In fact, one employee was still working out of class for more than two months after the Commission received his initial claim.
In April 2020, the Commission further restricted the time allowed to submit out-of-class claims by amending its rule to require that employees submit them within 45 days of beginning the out-of-class work. According to a document describing the rationale for this change that the assistant director sent to the commissioners, the Commission had encountered problems with the late submission of claims and when claims are submitted late, employees have difficulty recalling or are unable to recall necessary details of work performed. The assistant director stated that 45 days should provide sufficient time for employees to submit a claim because out-of-class assignments are meant to be short in duration. However, limiting the time available to submit a claim for compensation has no influence on the length of an out-of-class assignment. The document also stated that other organizations have instituted similar time frames for employees to submit claims. The assistant director provided us with evidence of one other community college personnel commission that requires an employee to begin the claim process within 45 days of beginning out-of-class work. However, the other organizations we spoke to all provided time frames of one to three years for employees to submit out-of-class claims. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District compensates employees for out-of-class work they performed up to three years before filing a claim, and the law allows the State to reimburse some employees for the duties outside the scope of their classifications they performed up to one year before filing a claim.
Further, the Commission's implementation of the claims process raises questions about the practicality of changing the time limit from 100 to 45 days. For the purposes of determining compliance with the time limit, the Commission uses the date it receives the out-of-class claim form as the date of submission. According to the assistant director, this date is more reliable because employees could backdate their signature. However, as Figure 7 shows, a supervisor and division head or college president must approve the claim before sending it to the Commission. As a result, the employee cannot control when the Commission will receive the claim. In the six out-of-class claims we reviewed, an average of 17 days elapsed between the date of the employee's signature and the date of the Commission's receipt of the claim—more than a third of the 45-day time frame an employee now has to submit the claim.
The Commission's practice of basing the time limit on the date it receives the claim places an unfair burden on employees for processes outside their control. The time between the employee's signature on the form and the date of the Commission's receipt varied widely for the six claims we reviewed—from one to 49 days. Because employees have no control over this aspect of the process, penalizing them for such delays by limiting their compensation is unreasonable. Although the reason for a specific delay may qualify a claim for the exception to the time limit that we describe earlier in this section, the assistant director stated that the employee must request such an exception. However, the Commission did not describe this exception on the claim form before February 2021, and the form still does not specify that the employee must request the exception.
To ensure that employees are aware that they can request intermittent payments while performing out-of-class work assignments, the Commission should immediately revise its claim form to include this option.
To ensure that employees receive prompt compensation for the higher‑level duties they perform, the Commission should revise its rules by October 2021 to process employees' compensation for out‑of‑class work each month.
To ensure that employees are fairly compensated for the entirety of the out-of-class work they perform, the Commission should amend its rules to do the following by October 2021:
- Allow employees at least 100 days to submit their out-of-class work claims before limiting their compensation.
- Require employees to submit a copy of their out-of-class claim form to the Commission at the same time as they submit it to their supervisors, and use the date the Commission receives this copy of the form as the date of submission.
The Commission Does Not Adequately Address All Complaints and Protect Complainants
- The Commission lacks a defined process for addressing all employee complaints, and it could not document that it adequately addressed all of the complaints it received. Further, the commissioners provide limited oversight of the complaint process because the Commission staff generally does not notify them of complaints.
- The Commission's former director received details about whistleblower‑type complaints made against her, despite the fact that sharing such details increased the risk of retaliation against those complainants.
The Commission Does Not Adequately Track and Address All Employee Complaints
Primary Methods of Submitting a Complaint to the Commission
- Raise concerns during the public comment period of Commission meetings.
- Email complaints to Commission staff.
- Call Commission staff to voice complaints.
- Complete the feedback survey on the Commission's website.
Source: Commission website and interviews with Commission staff.
When District employees or examination applicants are dissatisfied with the Commission, they have a number of options for submitting complaints. They can submit complaints to the Commission itself using several different methods, as the text box shows. However, employees may also submit complaints about the Commission to other entities both within and outside the District, including the District's human resources division, the State's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the State's Public Employment Relations Board. Each of these entities is responsible for addressing the complaints it receives. Employees covered by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement may also make complaints through the union's grievance procedure about applicable Commission rules.
The Commission's practices for documenting both complaints and the actions it takes to resolve them are inconsistent and vary based on how the complaint is submitted, in part because it has not clearly defined what it considers to be a complaint nor established a specific process for managing all of them. According to the assistant director, the Commission receives questions, inquiries, and complaints on a spectrum from minor, which are routine and simple to resolve, to serious allegations that require more formal action. She stated that the vast majority of inquiries and concerns are requests for information and for assistance in solving problems and Commission staff address these issues as they arise, often resolving them immediately. For example, if staff receive a complaint regarding a Commission process, such as a reclassification study, they document it in that study's file. In contrast, the Commission records all complaints made at Commission meetings in a log that includes a description of the actions the Commission took to address them. However, the Commission's rules do not clearly define what it considers to be a complaint nor do they establish a formal process for managing all complaints. The assistant director asserted that it is unreasonable for any business to document every inquiry it receives and that the Commission tracks large issues, which she described as the formal appeals and issues raised at Commission meetings.As a result of the concerns we raised about adequately handling complaints, the assistant director stated that in December 2020 she instructed staff to begin keeping a log of inquiries and concerns submitted by employees through the Commission's website and general email. Despite this assertion, as we describe below, we identified a number of complaints the Commission received via email that it failed to address. This may be the result of the lack of clear criteria in the Commission rules defining what represents a complaint or the lack of a formal process for managing those complaints.
Because the Commission does not consistently document and track complaints, it could not provide a comprehensive list of complaints it received from fiscal years 2016–17 through 2018–19. Instead, we reviewed a log of the comments that the public raised during Commission meetings (speakers log) to identify concerns raised in those meetings, and we searched for specific terms in emails sent to selected Commission accounts.It is likely that the Commission received additional complaints in its other email accounts, including the accounts it uses for job postings or general inquiries. Additionally, it also may have received additional complaints by phone. However, for the purposes of this audit, we reviewed only two of its email accounts. We found that the Commission most consistently tracked complaints from the public comment periods of its meetings. The Commission's executive assistant is responsible for maintaining the speakers log for these meetings, which lists 13 comments for fiscal years 2016–17 through 2018–19. However, public comment is not restricted to complaints, and as we describe above, the Commission's rules do not provide clear criteria for what it considers to be a complaint. The summaries for the 13 comments include four that appear to be complaints about unfair personnel decisions. We determined that in each of these instances, the Commission responded appropriately.
Although the Commission adequately addressed the complaints made in public meetings that we reviewed, it did not consistently do so for the complaints we identified through our search of its email. When we searched for specific terms in emails sent to two Commission addresses from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2019, we identified 21 complaints from applicants and District employees, many of which related to concerns we describe elsewhere in this report. The Commission could not provide documentation that it appropriately addressed five of these 21 complaints. Although two of the five fell outside its purview, the Commission was unable to provide assurance that it referred these issues to the appropriate entities.
The Commission's Current Rules Concerning Whistleblower Information Create an Unnecessary Risk of Retaliation
According to the Commission's rules, requests for an investigation of personnel problems related to alleged violations of merit system laws or Commission rules must be made in writing. The director will conduct an investigation into the allegation although every effort must be made to resolve the matter informally. If informal resolution is not possible or the findings require formal action, a report with findings and recommendations is presented to the commissioners. The rules also specify that if the allegations implicate the director, the Commission must appoint an independent investigator. We identified two complaints the Commission received alleging misconduct by a director who has since retired (former director). The District's general counsel sent both of the complaints to the former director and the commissioners. The emails included the complainants' names as well as details of their allegations about the director.
Commission rules do not address whether the director should be notified of requests for an investigation involving them; however, sharing that information creates a risk of retaliation against the complainant. The complaints against the former director could be considered whistleblower complaints because—as described by the nonprofit National Whistleblower Center—they describe alleged wrongdoing to those within the organization with the authority to correct that wrongdoing. Federal best practices describe methods for protecting whistleblowers that include providing a method of reporting the issue outside a complainant's chain of command, establishing an independent complaint review process, and providing protection and confidentiality to those who submit complaints. Requiring an independent investigator for complaints involving the director is an important aspect of ensuring that they are evaluated objectively. However, notifying the director of the details of the complaint and the complainant's identity before the investigation occurs is incompatible with maintaining complainant confidentiality, which is necessary to prevent retaliation and ensure an impartial investigation. The Commission's failure to adequately maintain complainants' confidentiality in these cases increases the risk of retaliation and reduces the likelihood that future complainants will inform the Commission of potential wrongdoing.
Further, the Commission processed only one of the two complaints against the former director in accordance with its rules. For that complaint, the commissioners delegated the issue to the District's Office of General Counsel, which contracted with an outside party to conduct an investigation. However, the Commission did not provide evidence that it appointed an independent investigator to investigate the other complaint as required by Commission rules or took any other action. According to the Commission chair, the District's general counsel and the vice chancellor decided that the complaint did not allege a violation of merit system rules, and therefore the rule requiring an independent investigation did not apply. However, the complainant alleged among other things that under the former director's oversight, the Commission had not properly evaluated employee classifications, had revised job descriptions to prevent upward mobility, had created Commission rules not in accordance with state law, and had inconsistently applied standards and rules—all of which appear to violate the merit system's rules.
Involving the commissioners in the complaint process could help ensure that the Commission handles complaints appropriately and could prevent potential conflicts of interest. Currently, commissioners have little to no involvement in complaints. According to the assistant director, Commission staff generally do not have a reason to notify commissioners of complaints. In contrast, the State Center Community College District (State Center) Personnel Commission rules define a multi-level process for addressing complaints in which a complainant may submit a complaint to its commissioners if the complaint is not resolved at earlier levels. This ensures that all complaints are addressed and it elevates to the commissioners only those complaints unresolved at lower levels. Based on the assistant director's assertion that serious complaints are infrequent, directing formal complaints that are not resolved by Commission staff to the commissioners would not significantly increase their workload. Further, including a provision for submitting whistleblower complaints to the District's general counsel—who is already generally responsible for representing the Commission in all legal matters—could help ensure that all complaints are addressed and reduce the risk of retaliation against complainants.
To ensure that it consistently identifies and responds to all complaints and to reduce the risk of retaliation against complainants, by October 2021 the Commission should amend its rules to do the following:
- Clearly define complaints and create a formal process for addressing all complaints, including a process to elevate to the commissioners those complaints that are not resolved at lower levels.
- Include a provision for submitting whistleblower complaints directly to the District's Office of the General Counsel and assign it the responsibility of designating an appropriate party to respond.
- Establish that complainant information may not be shared with the subject of a whistleblower complaint.
Other Areas We Reviewed
To address all of the audit objectives approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (Audit Committee), we reviewed eight issues in addition to those we discuss previously. Two of these issues resulted in additional recommendations to the Commission.
The Commission's Rules
State law imposes some requirements as to how personnel commissions must operate, but it also gives them the authority to prescribe rules as may be necessary to insure the selection and retention of employees on a basis of merit and fitness. We reviewed a selection of the Commission's merit system rules governing discipline, examinations, and classifications and found that they are generally consistent with state law. For example, state law requires reasonable notice be given to the exclusive bargaining unit representatives of any proposed classifications or reclassifications that would affect the classified employees they represent, and the Commission's rules establish a policy of providing advance notice to exclusive bargaining unit representatives and consulting with them about a proposed classification or reclassification that could affect the bargaining unit or its members.
In addition, the Commission's rules are consistent with the elements included in the District's bargaining agreement with the staff union, which represents the majority of the District's classified employees. The collective bargaining agreement sets out the conditions of employment for classified employees and generally references and defers to the relevant Commission rules or processes for appealing discipline and examination decisions. The agreement also recognizes the Commission's role in classifications and references its rule for out-of-class claims. For example, the agreement states that employees may file a request for reclassification with the Commission, that the Commission must notify the union when it receives such a request, and that the rules regarding reclassifications are contained in the Commission's rules and state law.
The Commission's Debarment and Notification Practices
During the course of this audit, District employees alleged to us that the Commission inconsistently denied them the opportunity to participate in the examination process with the District for a specific period of time, an action known as debarment. To investigate this allegation, we assessed the Commission's procedures for identifying facts that could lead to a debarment and reviewed pertinent documents for a selection of 10 individuals debarred in fiscal years 2017–18 through 2019–20. These debarments were the result of the Commission's determining that candidates had made false statements in their applications or related documents, omitted material facts from their applications or related documents, or practiced deception or fraud to pass an examination or to secure employment. The Commission's policies state that in most cases, deception is grounds for permanent debarment although the assistant director stated that the Commission rarely permanently debars current employees.
Commission staff explained that debarments typically stem from their review of applications. During this review they sometimes identify items that appear vague, evasive, or incorrect. When they identify such a concern, they review past applications from the individual, if available, to look for inconsistencies. Commission staff whom we spoke with described identifying inconsistencies between the application they are assessing and previous applications from the same individual as a significant aspect of their method for identifying false statements or deception. They described using their professional judgment to determine which inconsistencies are significant. In some cases, they take additional steps to confirm the inconsistency, such as asking an applicant for clarification, verifying actual duties with a supervisor, or reviewing the specifications of the applicant's current position. However, examiners have the discretion to determine when to contact applicants for additional information, which the applicant has three days to provide. We observed that examiners generally used the Commission's electronic job application system to record any additional verification steps they took—such as obtaining information or documentation from a previous employer—but they did not consistently retain documentation of the information they obtained in the system.
Because Commission staff do not always obtain additional information to verify whether inconsistencies constitute a false statement, applicants may face differing levels of scrutiny. In five of the 10 cases we reviewed, the examiners did not take additional steps before determining that debarment was the appropriate course of action. In three of those five cases, the examiners noted that it appeared that the applicants attempted to meet a position's minimum qualifications by including additional experience they had not listed on past applications. Although such an addition may be grounds for concern, it is also possible that the applicants omitted those jobs or duties from past applications because they were not relevant to the positions for which they were previously applying. Because debarment has significant consequences, we expected the Commission to first take additional steps, such as contacting current or past supervisors, to verify the information on an individual's current application. Additionally, the Commission did not provide the applicants the opportunity to submit additional information regarding the issue for which they were debarred in any of the 10 cases we reviewed. We question the Commission's decision to impose such significant repercussions without consistently allowing applicants to provide clarifying information.
To ensure that it treats applicants consistently when considering whether to debar them in the case of false statements or deception, the Commission should establish rules to require that examiners do the following:
- Independently verify the reason for inconsistencies between applications.
- Provide applicants with an opportunity to address the inconsistencies.
- Document the steps taken to verify the disputed information and retain relevant supporting documentation.
The Commission's Accountability Measures
Although the Commission is responsible for supervising staff implementing the Commission's rules, our review indicates that it could improve its oversight of its staff. As the Introduction describes, three commissioners are appointed to staggered three‑year terms. The Commission staff review and make determinations, which are submitted to the commissioners for approval, such as a recommendation that the Board approve a new job classification. Although the Board may approve, amend, or reject certain Commission recommendations, the commissioners are responsible for prescribing, amending, and interpreting rules subject to the merit system as set forth in state law, and supervising those activities of employees that are performed as part of the functions of the Commission.
The commissioners should exercise greater oversight of the Commission's operations. For example, the examination scoring inconsistencies we describe previously are not surprising, given the broad discretion the Commission affords its raters. None of the other organizations responsible for administering merit systems that we spoke with allow such discretion. However, the assistant director asserted that the Commission did not agree with our characterization of these inconsistencies, and she reiterated that the Commission allows raters discretion in determining overall scores. The Commission staff's inability to recognize that its processes are not adequate to ensure consistent overall scores or the importance of such consistency indicates that the commissioners must take a more direct role in overseeing the Commission's practices. To minimize the risk of such inadequate processes, the commissioners should periodically require staff to compare the Commission's practices to those of other merit systems and report the results to the commissioners. This will allow the Commission to examine the potential value of differing practices from comparable entities and to consider aligning its processes with these entities' best practices.
Further, the commissioners should require more information of Commission staff when considering proposed revisions of rules and other actions. As we describe previously, the Commission revised its rules concerning work out of class to reduce the 100-day limit for submitting a claim to 45 days. One of the stated reasons for this change was that staff had found that other entities have instituted similar time restrictions. However, the staff did not provide the details of their comparison to the commissioners, and the three entities we reviewed each provide one to three years for employees to submit such claims. If the commissioners require details of other entities' practices when considering rule changes, they will have a better understanding of the context for those changes and awareness of potential best practices the Commission could adopt.
To ensure that the Commission's practices align with the mission of the merit system, the commissioners should establish rules that require staff to periodically report to them on how its practices compare to those of other entities with merit systems, along with any recommendations for improving the Commission's practices.
Other Allegations We Received During the Course of the Audit
During the course of the audit, a number of District employees alleged that the Commission had engaged in improper conduct. To determine whether the Commission had engaged in the alleged behaviors, we performed some additional audit procedures; we did not perform procedures for every allegation we received because some were not within the scope of our audit and it was not possible or cost-effective to objectively assess others. We generally limited these additional procedures to the period from 2018 through 2021. We did not attempt to determine whether the Commission engaged in the alleged behavior before the time periods we reviewed because we were primarily concerned with determining whether the behavior was an ongoing issue. Table 2 lists the allegations we assessed that we have not addressed in previous sections of this report, the methods we used to assess them, and the results of our analysis.
Other Allegations We Received During the Course of the Audit
|Allegation||Method used to assess the allegation||Finding|
|The Commission arbitrarily changed minimum qualification requirements.||We reviewed the minimum qualifications for 10 job classifications, including eight for which the Commission changed the minimum qualifications or class qualifications during 2017 through 2019. For each change, we determined whether the change made the qualifications more rigorous and obtained the Commission's rationale for the changes.||We were unable to substantiate this allegation. Although the Commission made the minimum qualifications for the eight classifications more rigorous, these changes related to the duties of the positions, were applied consistently, and either reduced ambiguity in the qualification description or better tailored the requirements to the job classification or the District's operations. For example, in some instances, the Commission included requirements for a bachelor's degree rather than "graduation from a college or university."|
|The Commission established inconsistent minimum qualifications for a director position in order to discriminate against one applicant.||We reviewed the minimum qualifications of five director-level job classifications, including the position to which the allegation pertained. We also reviewed changes the Commission made to the qualification requirements for these job classifications in 2018.||We were unable to substantiate this allegation. The five classifications we reviewed had a number of similar minimum qualifications. All five required similar levels of education. The changes the Commission made to four of the classifications in 2018 made the positions' minimum qualifications more consistent with each other. According to the assistant director, the Commission made these changes to make the minimum qualifications more clear and consistent after some applicants raised concerns.|
|The Commission altered qualification requirements, which eliminated salary differentials. The Commission then required employees to repay their salary differentials for past periods.||We interviewed relevant District staff and reviewed documents to identify any instances in fiscal years 2017–18 through 2019–20 in which the Commission altered educational requirements that resulted in the elimination of salary differentials, and we assessed whether these changes were reasonable. We requested documents from the District for any instances in which individuals in these classifications were required to repay funds.||We were unable to fully substantiate this allegation. Although we found instances in which the Commission changed classifications' educational requirements and eliminated the salary differentials for some employees as a result, we found no instances in which the Commission required employees to repay their salary differentials during the period we reviewed, and we found the changes to the educational requirements to be reasonable.|
|The Commission sent rejection notices that did not disclose required information, including the right to appeal.||We reviewed a selection of 20 rejection notices stating that applicants were debarred that the Commission sent from fiscal years 2017–18 through 2019–20 and determined whether they included the three elements that the Commission's rules require:
||We were unable to substantiate this allegation. All 20 of the rejection notices we reviewed included the required information.
Based on the documentation provided in support of the allegation, we concluded that the individuals making this allegation misunderstood the Commission's rules. Specifically, what they believed to be rejection notices were actually disqualification notices.* The Commission's rules do not require specific information to be included in disqualification notices.
|Because a member of the Commission staff disliked individuals on certain eligibility lists, the Commission canceled those eligibility lists or examinations and conducted new examinations.||To determine whether the Commission canceled examinations or eligibility lists, we reviewed reports of canceled job examinations, and eligibility lists from fiscal years 2017–18 through 2019–20 to identify the number of examinations conducted multiple times within 12 months. We then reviewed documentation and interviewed staff to identify the reason for generating multiple eligibility lists and conducting multiple examinations.||We were unable to substantiate this allegation. We did find multiple classifications with more than one eligibility list or examination within a 12-month period. In some instances, the District did not hire individuals on these new lists. For example, for some eligibility lists there were an insufficient number of qualified candidates, and on others eligible candidates declined job offers. We also found that the District hires for several entry‑level classifications on a regular basis and thus has a legitimate need to generate multiple lists within 12 months. Thus, the multiple eligibility lists the Commission generated during the period we reviewed appear to be appropriate.|
|The Commission maintained a "black book" that contained a list of names that the Commission discriminated against during examinations.||We requested the "black book" from the Commission and reviewed relevant information from the Commission's manual.||We determined that the Commission does have a document that it describes as a "black book." However, according to the Commission's manual, the black book contains a list of applicants and candidates that the Commission has debarred, or denied, from participating in its examinations. We identified some entries on the list that lacked information regarding the reasons for and lengths of the individuals' debarments. The Commission asserted that these records were outdated and the individuals were not removed from examinations. We determined that the Commission had established procedures requiring notifications to be sent to individuals who were removed from the examination process due to debarment. This notification provides a safeguard as it would allow such applicants an opportunity to dispute their removal from an examination if they had not been properly debarred or otherwise excluded from the process. Further, we reviewed the status of applicants in the Commission's electronic job application and examination system and confirmed that the system indicated that the Commission informed all applicants of their application status or allowed them to progress to the next stage of the process. The Director stated that the Commission has since removed all records from the list that lack necessary details.|
Source: Interviews with Commission staff, Commission rules and policies, and Commission documentation.
* A disqualification generally occurs when an applicant does not meet the minimum qualifications of the position for which they have applied. In contrast, a rejection generally indicates the applicant is ineligible to apply for any District job for a specific period of time.
Who Decides Examination
and Eligibility Appeals
Candidates may appeal the results of any part of an examination. The first level of appeal is to the examiner, and if the examiner denies the appeal, the candidate may appeal to the director.
Applicants, candidates, and eligible candidates may appeal rejections (eligibility appeal). The first level of appeal is to the director.
If the director denies an examination or eligibility appeal, the appellant may appeal to the commissioners.
Source: Commission rules.
The Commission's Appeal Process
The Commission's rules for appeals are consistent with those of other comparable organizations, and it adhered to these rules for processing various types of appeals during our audit period. As Figure 9 illustrates, appeals are distinct from complaints. The Commission's appeals processes are substantially similar to those of the other personnel commissions whose policies we reviewed, except that the Commission does not allow applicants to appeal minimum qualification determinations. Candidates may appeal any part of an examination and eligibility determination, and permanent classified employees may appeal disciplinary actions to the Commission. The Commission's rules establish different requirements for different types of appeals. As the text box shows, applicants, candidates, and eligible candidates for examination may appeal rejection determinations to the Commission director.
The Commission Has Established Different Requirements and Processes for Managing Complaints and Appeals
Source: Commission rules, staff union agreement, and staff interviews.
* Commission decisions may be appealed to the Superior Court. According to the assistant director, no appellants have further appealed to the Superior Court in the more than 20 years she has been with the Commission.
† For example, according to the assistant director, she or the director would generally handle a complaint made during the public comment portion of a Commission meeting.
We reviewed a selection of 10 eligibility and examination appeals from fiscal years 2016–17 through 2018–19 and found that the Commission generally followed those of its rules that we assessed and appropriately addressed the appeals. Table 3 shows the outcomes of those appeals. Although the former director reversed an original decision to disqualify one applicant who appealed and the commissioners reversed the decision for a second, we did not identify any procedural errors that led to the initial rejections, such as Commission staff incorrectly assessing the applicant's information. In both cases, the applicants submitted additional information during the appeal process that negated or sufficiently addressed the reasons for the rejection. For example, the Commission rejected one applicant because a previous employer had dismissed her for cause. However, the applicant explained in her appeal that she had misunderstood and incorrectly answered the question that led the Commission staff to that conclusion, and she provided documentation proving that she was still employed in that position.
The Director and Commission Upheld the Original Decision in Most Appeals We Reviewed
|Total||Upheld Decision||Reversed Decision|
|Exam Appeals to Director||3||3||0|
|Further Appealed to Commission||0||–||–|
|Eligibility Appeals to Director||5||4||1|
|Further Appealed to Commission||2||2||0|
|Eligibility Appealed Directly to Commission||2||1||1|
Source: Analysis of 10 appeals the Commission received.
The Commission also appropriately handled the disciplinary appeals we reviewed. Certain employees may appeal suspensions, demotions, and dismissals to the Commission; however, the Commission delegates disciplinary appeals to a third party. Specifically, for these appeals, its rules allow the Commission to authorize hearing officers—which are independent contractors, according to the assistant director—to conduct hearings or investigations. The hearing officer submits a report with conclusions and recommendations to the Commission, and the commissioners vote to accept or reject the recommendation. We identified four disciplinary appeals during fiscal years 2016–17 through 2018–19 that the Commission decided, and determined that in each case it followed the specific rules and procedures for addressing disciplinary appeals that we reviewed. In each of the four appeals, the hearing officer recommended upholding the disciplinary action and the commissioners voted to adopt the recommendation. Although the Commission generally failed to meet the timelines described in its rules for investigating these cases and holding hearings, according to the assistant director these delays were caused by, among other things, a scarcity of hearing officers.
Oversight of the Commission's Budget and Expenditures
The District has sufficient safeguards over the Commission's budgets and expenditures. Although the Commission states that it is an independent entity, the District does process and monitor the Commission's expenses. District rules state that the expenses of the Commission are to be paid out of the general funds of the District. For fiscal year 2018–19, the Commission's budgeted expenditures totaled $2.2 million, of which it spent about 92 percent on employee salaries and benefits. In total, the Commission's budget for fiscal year 2018–19 was approximately .04 percent of the District's $5.7 billion budget.
The District can provide input on the Commission's budgets. According to the District's director of budget and management analysis (budget director), the budget director and the District's chief financial officer meet annually with the Commission's director and assistant director to discuss the Commission's proposed budget. State law requires the Commission to prepare a budget for a public hearing to be held no later than May 30 each year to which the Commission must invite the Board and District administration representatives to present their views. We found that the Commission generally adhered to this requirement. During the meetings at which it adopts its budget, the Commission schedules time to receive comments from the Board, the District's chancellor, the staff union, and the public. After the Commission adopts its budget, the Commission then forwards its proposed budget to the county superintendent of schools (county superintendent) who may approve or reject it. During this approval process, the Board informs the county superintendent whether it concurs with the Commission's proposed budget.
The District also monitors and reviews the Commission's expenditures throughout the year. Although the Board's rules allow the Commission sole direction over expenditure of the funds appropriated for its operation, according to the District's chief financial officer, the District treats the Commission in the same manner in which it treats other District departments. The budget director explained that the District monitors the Commission's expenditures through the District's financial system, which allows it to ensure that the Commission does not spend funds in excess of its budget. The District processes the Commission's payroll, and the District's accounting manager for accounts payable and disbursements (accounting manager) explained that the accounts payable staff review and process payments for the Commission's purchase orders, invoices, and receipts. The accounting manager stated that if the accounts payable staff identify a concern with a Commission expenditure, they follow up with the Commission to determine whether the expenditure was approved. If the Commission is unable to alleviate the concern, the staff refers the issue to the District's internal auditor for additional review. The District's rules also require the Commission to submit monthly financial reports to the chancellor as of the last day of each month showing the current status of the Commission's expenditures in relation to its budget.
Impact of the Commission's Decisions on the District's Budget
The Commission has chosen not to analyze the financial impact of its decisions because the Board has final approval over them. As the Introduction describes, some of the Commission's decisions relate to employee salaries and thus affect the District's budget. Specifically, state law requires the Commission to recommend salaries for the District's classified employees to the Board, which has the authority to approve, amend, or reject the Commission's recommendations. The chancellor believes that recommendations to classify and reclassify positions are the Commission decisions that have the largest impact on the District's budget. However, the Commission's chair explained that he believes that because the Board has the responsibility to implement the Commission's recommendations to alter salaries, the Board is also responsible for determining the impact of those changes on the District's budget. Because the Commission classifies and reclassifies employees, which includes the preparation of job descriptions and recommendation of salaries to the Board, delegating consideration of the fiscal impact of its recommendations to the District helps increase its impartiality.
The District's chancellor explained that although the Commission's decisions related to reclassifications and salaries have a fiscal impact on the District, the District believes that those costs are necessary to ensure that it retains its employees and pays them appropriately and fairly. The budget director could not recall any decisions that resulted in excessive or unexpected costs for the District, and the chancellor stated that he does not have any significant concerns about the Commission's decisions having a negative impact on the District's budget.
Commission Turnover and Work Environment
District employees and former Commission employees described concerns about the Commission's culture and stated that they feared retaliation by the former director. This culture appears to have contributed to the Commission's turnover during the last five years. Specifically, from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2019–20, 10 staff members—including the former director—left the Commission. Based on the number of Commission employees during those years, its annual turnover rate averaged about 18 percent.
We attempted to determine why these employees left the Commission; however, the assistant director stated that the District does not conduct exit interviews. Former Commission employees we spoke with stated that the behavior of the former director influenced their decisions to leave the Commission. Both current District and former Commission employees stated that they feared retaliation or retribution from the former director if they questioned Commission practices. Some District employees explained that they feared that if they spoke out against her the former director would remove their job position through a classification study. Former Commission employees also stated the former director did not allow them to speak with the commissioners.
The former director retired in December 2019 and the Commission hired a new director in April 2020. In addition, as the Introduction describes, the process for selecting commissioners has changed, and a new commissioner was appointed in 2020 for the first time in 11 years. However, because we finished performing procedures for this audit in March 2021, it was not possible to determine the impact of these changes on the Commission's culture and practices.
We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards and under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Government Code sections 8543 et seq. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on the audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor
May 6, 2021