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Capitol Employee Who Took Gig Job During Pandemic Could Be Out $20K

August 20, 2021 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Capitol. July 21, 2021 (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — An employee of the Architect of the Capitol’s office who took a job working with Amazon while on administrative leave during the pandemic may have to repay the office $20,197, the AOC Office of the Inspector General said Thursday.

Neither the employee nor their position is identified in the four-page report on the inspector general’s investigation. But the case illustrates some of the challenges federal agencies and their employees encountered while trying to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the report, the inspector general received a complaint from a supervisor with the Architect of the Capitol on Nov. 6, 2020, alleging an employee was working another job while taking advantage of the AOC’s “workplace and leave flexibilities” policies due to alleged child care issues stemming from the global health crisis.

Under these policies, the employee was entitled to and was collecting their regular income while complying with specific agency expectations.

The employee began staying home with their minor child, who was out of school due to the pandemic, in September 2020.

A month later, in response to the health emergency, the Architect of the Capitol’s office issued a memo clarifying the agency’s expectations for employees while on administrative leave.

The memorandum stated in part, that while administrative leave is an excused absence from work without loss of pay, employees must be available and able to work on short notice. 

In addition, the employee is expected to communicate “regularly”and “promptly” with colleagues and supervisors, and participate in telework activities as directed by management.

In December 2020, the Office of the Inspector General and AOC Office of General Counsel reviewed the policy and determined there was nothing specific in the policy that prohibited employees from working another job, or engaging in other personal activities, while on administrative leave as long as they complied with its other provisions.

But also back in October, the Architect of the Capitol’s office announced it was discontinuing its previous administrative leave policy and informed its employees they would need to apply for relief under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to continue paid leave. 

The FFCRA provides paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 that includes, in part, care of a child out of school closed due to the pandemic. 

Thanks to the Act, federal agencies no longer had to expense the cost for COVID-19-related expanded leave flexibilities.

The employee was informed of the change in policy,and submitted an FFCRA application, stating they needed leave to care for a minor child whose school was closed. The application was approved and the employee was given permission to take up to 12 weeks leave. 

A short time later, the Office of the Inspector General confirmed the employee had worked for Amazon from July 19, 2020, through Dec. 26, 2020, “counter to their claim of needing these leave flexibilities to care for a minor out of school due to COVID-19.”

The problem was, though the FFCRA did not prohibit employees from working another job while on leave, they were required to complete a Notice of Outside Employment or Self-Employment form — in other words, seek permission in advance before taking the second position.

“The AOC continues to have the authority and discretion to grant administrative leave; however, the current policies set forth as a result of COVID-19 were silent regarding outside employment,” the report said. “The policy gap identified increases the AOC’s risk exposure to fraud. As a result, AOC employees have been able to ‘double dip’ by working for an outside employer during the time granted under administrative leave.”

The Office of the Inspector General goes on to say it “feels strongly the employee’s actions are tantamount to payroll fraud whereby an employee has claimed a need that prevents them from performing their AOC duties and in turn receives compensation under FFCRA administrative leave. 

“Meanwhile the employee, who claimed they could not perform their AOC duties, performed comparable work at another employer for additional compensation,” the report said.

The employee , who made around $19 per hour or $21 for night shift work and two-thirds of that while on pandemic leave, could have to pay back the more than $20,000 collected between July 2020 and Dec. 26, 2020.

“This investigation and other cases involving administrative leave will be collectively presented to the assistant United States attorney for potential prosecution. The case is closed and management action is pending,” the report concluded.

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