Over time, cash incentives for "determinations" — decisions whether to issue or deny benefits — dropped from $25 to $5.
"These incentive reductions are detrimental to the morale of high-performing employees, who receive a reduction in total compensation as management addresses the budget constraints for the program," the audit states.
While the department recognizes its tools to measure employee success "always have room for improvement, we believe that recent initiatives are moving us in the right direction," Pierpont responded.
Incentive amounts dropped because more employees participated in the program and the program had limited funds. "Employees who see a change in their incentive amount are still receiving additional compensation on top of salary based on their increases productivity," he wrote.
Pierpont added that leadership is an essential factor in helping eligibility teams work harmoniously and efficiently.
"Since we estimate it costs approximately $50,000 to fully train an eligibility specialist, our ultimate goal is to ensure they become fully functioning and successful (Eligibility Services Division) employees. Effective management is an integral part in achieving that goal," he wrote.
Many managers have developed initiatives to reward employees such as recognition luncheons, division awards, accuracy celebrations and service projects. Some managers and supervisors have spent their own money on these initiatives, Pierpont wrote.
"In addition, opportunities such as flex schedules, telecommuting and tuition reimbursement contribute to a healthy environment," he added.
Auditors wrote that DWS should reconsider its zero tolerance policy on access to DWS databases. The policy requires immediate termination of employees for client data access outside of "legitimate business purposes."
The policy was implemented in 2011 after a DWS employee in 2010 released a list of names of clients who purportedly were unauthorized to be in the United States. "The List" was given to the news media, law enforcement and the governor's office.
Two employees were terminated and faced criminal prosecutions, though neither served jail time. That drew the ire of Latino community leaders, who said the acts spread fear among Latino-surnamed Americans and unauthorized immigrants whose names were on the list.
After implementing the policy in 2011, 23 DWS employees were issued letters of termination. However, the Utah Public Employees Association intervened, arguing that employees had not been sufficiently trained to understand the policy. The employees ultimately received four-day suspensions. The policy, the audit states, "appears to have been applied inconsistently."
The audit examined six cases in which DWS employees had inappropriately accessed databases between July 2011 and December 2012. Reprimands ranged from dismissal of a probationary employee who inappropriately accessed DWS records to a written reprimand of an employee who disclosed customer information on Facebook.
Legislative auditors noted that zero tolerance policies are rarely used in state agencies, even those in which employees have access to sensitive client information.
Auditors recommended the agency move away from the zero tolerance policy because it "does not allow management flexibility to adjust their actions for mitigating circumstances. Zero tolerance, by definition, means immediate dismissal. In actuality, this policy is difficult to enforce."
Pierpont strongly disagreed with the auditors' recommendation regarding the policy.
“Although we understand the audit’s concern regarding zero tolerance policies, we collect and maintain large databases of highly sensitive, confidential information. We view that as the highest level of public trust and cannot tolerate any violation of that trust," Pierpont wrote.
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