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By Lawrence Andrea June 17, 2020

Claim that state workers are being paid to sit “idle” at home leaves out context

If Your Time is short

  • State employees can qualify for paid administrative leave.

  • These employees must be sick with coronavirus, taking care of someone or otherwise deemed unable to work from home by a supervisor.

  • Few state employees are using this program.

The coronavirus pandemic has left millions without work in the United States.

In Wisconsin, more than 2.6 million weekly unemployment claims were filed between March 15 and May 30, 2020. And though the number of weekly claims has gradually declined, more than 728,000 claims remained unpaid at the end of May. 

The state Department of Workforce Development is working to hire additional workers to handle unemployment claims. But former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who lost to Democrat Tony Evers in 2018, has his own idea of how to tackle it.

"Assign all state employees who have been idle at home to process unemployment benefits," Walker said in a June 5, 2020 tweet.

Are there really state workers sitting "idle at home" during the crisis?

The claim

The June 5, 2020 tweet wasn’t the first time Walker, who is now president-elect of the conservative group Young America’s Foundation, made such a claim. 

In a May 20, 2020 New York Times Op-Ed, he wrote "many state government employees are still receiving paychecks as they sit idle at home."

When asked to back up the claim, a Walker spokesperson pointed to a March 23, 2020 memo to Wisconsin state employees from Department of Administration secretary Joel Brennan. 

A provision of the memo says non-essential employees who are unable to do their jobs from home are eligible to use up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave. 

Employees eligible for the administrative leave are available for alternative assignments, including to support "various activities around the state’s COVID‐19 response efforts," according to the memo.

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The provision took effect March 25, 2020. Both non-essential employees and appointed employees are eligible for administrative leave, but those hired in response to the coronavirus pandemic are not. The memo says employees may use the money to cover normal work hours for those who are sick or deemed "unable to telework" by their supervisor. 

The state of state workers

Wisconsin Department of Administration spokesperson Molly Vidal called Walker’s statement a "gross oversimplification."

Vidal said the policy allows employees who have not yet earned paid administrative leave benefits "to access leave if they contracted COVID-19, needed to care for a family member with COVID-19 or due to the sudden closure of childcare facilities." 

She emphasized that employees are required to use up all other leave options — such as paid vacation time — before being able to use this administrative leave.

Vidal added that 8 percent of eligible state employees are using the program -- or, about 2  percent of all state employees. These employees, she noted, are often custodians, facility repair workers and tour guides. 

Beyond that, hundreds of state employees have been temporarily reassigned to assist with the state’s coronavirus response, according to Vidal. Some of the tasks include transporting testing supplies and becoming coronavirus contact tracers. 

Our ruling

Walker claimed there are state employees being paid to sit "idle" at home.

Although there are state employees who are being compensated while unable to work due to coronavirus, there are stipulations that need to be met before a non-essential worker can qualify for paid administrative leave. What’s more, some people in nonessential jobs and unable to work from home have been put on to other COVD-related tasks.

Our definition of Half True is "the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

That fits here.

Our Sources

Email exchange with Molly Vidal, Department of Administration spokesperson, June 15, 2020

Email exchange with Jim Dick, spokesperson for Scott Walker, June 9, 2020

Department of Administration, Memo to state employees, May 23, 2020

Scott Walker, Twitter, June 5, 2020

New York Times, Don’t Bail out the states (Scott Walker op-ed), May 20, 2020

Department of Workforce Development, Unemployment data, June 2, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Unpaid unemployment claims top 728,000 as state Senate holds hearings on backlog, May 27, 2020

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Claim that state workers are being paid to sit “idle” at home leaves out context

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