Employees of Santa Cruz City Hall Accumulate Hundreds of Vacation Days

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Can you imagine having the equivalent of a year and three months worth of vacation time? Through November 2018, one official from Santa Cruz city hall had accumulated just that: 330 days off.

Another 11 employees (five percent of the payroll) have more than 80 working days, according to a list requested by The Voice of Guanacaste and provided by the human resources department listing 267 workers for city hall. See chart

The labor law says that, ideally a worker should have a maximum of two weeks of vacation time. At Santa Cruz city hall, workers have an average of double that.

One Day After Another

Kendall Ruiz, labor attorney, explained that Costa Rica’s labor law states that for every 50 weeks that an employee works (11 and a half months), that person has the right to two weeks of vacation.

The employer, in this case city hall, is in charge of approving vacations, but also has the authority to require that employees take vacations or even to say when they should take them.

“The employer cannot claim that the employee didn’t request vacations and that’s why the days accumulated,” Ruiz said. “Ideally, a worker should have a maximum of two weeks of vacation time. Anything more than that is exceeding what the law says.”

He added that the law expressly prohibits the accumulation of vacation time and only allows accumulating vacation time when a company only has one worker to perform a given function. In that case, the employee can only accumulate vacation time once.

If a local government, like Santa Cruz, has a collective bargaining agreement that provides additional days of vacation on top of what the law says, the employee and the local government cannot go beyond what the labor law says. In other words, the employee can have more days off per year, but doesn’t have an unlimited amount of time to take them.

The Let it Slip

María Rosa López, mayor of Santa Cruz, only gave one explanation. “It was carelessness in human resources,” she said.

According to López, she requested a count of working days per employee from human resources, but they refused to send it to her. “There are exaggerated numbers and this affects all employees at the municipality,” she said.

Through an administrative order, López requested in December that the head of the department, Yensy Duarte Ramírez, be suspended without pay for three months. During that period, the city will investigate the human resources department.

The investigation will have the help of an internal auditor and the nation’s comptroller,” the mayor said.

The head of the department claimed her suspension was an act of abuse of authority and filed a complaint against López in the Santa Cruz prosecutor’s office. The case is in the preparatory phase, which consists of collecting and analyzing evidence.

The Consequences

Ruiz, the labor lawyer, said that if conditions stay the same at city hall, the local government could face legal consequences for violating labor laws.

The labor ministry would be the entity in charge of starting proceedings against the city, which could end up in fines as high as ¢10 million per employee ($16,666)

The accumulation of vacation time would also put the city in dire financial straits if many of them decide to resign at the same time because the city would have to pay the vacation time to each worker.

“Vacation time is an inalienable right,” the attorney said. “As an employee, you can’t lose that time and the city would have to pay for those days.”

The human resources department didn’t share the total amount of money the city would have to pay for that vacation time, if necessary, but the close of this edition.

The mayor said that her administration and the human resources department are working on a timeline stagger vacation for officials and let them take time off and reduce the number of accumulated days each employee has.

“We already sent some employees on vacation. Then the process stopped, but we are starting it again,” López said.