Orange County's executive officer placed new restrictions on the hiring of retired workers Tuesday after supervisors said they were concerned to learn that the county has more than 200 retirees on its payroll.
Supervisor Chris Norby said hiring retired workers is bad policy because it allows employees to "double-dip" by collecting a pension and salary for the work they perform in retirement.
"Once you choose to retire, you have a pension," Norby said. "People need to choose between a pension and a paycheck."
The county rehires retired workers when there is a need for their services, such as filling in for employees on vacation, or when they have skills the county needs temporarily, county officials said. Under current county policy, retirees cannot work more than 120 days per year.
The county paid $3.7 million to 211 retired workers who were reemployed in the 2003-2004 fiscal year and $2 million to 204 retirees in the first six months of the current fiscal year, according to a county report.
Reacting to concern from supervisors, County Executive Officer Thomas G. Mauk on Tuesday issued an interim policy that prohibits any county agencies from hiring retired workers without his approval. Those now on the payroll will remain there.
The Board of Supervisors will review the policy and could alter it or adopt it permanently.
Mauk said he will also provide monthly reports to supervisors documenting the county's employment of retired workers. New requests to employ retired workers will be approved sparingly so that the practice of using retirees to fill full-time jobs will be cut back, Mauk said.
Bob Griffith, president of the Retired Employees Assn. of Orange County, said retirees provide flexibility and valuable experience. Griffith, who retired from the Social Services Agency in 2002 after 34 years, said retirees are not a threat to regular employees. The practice is more common in other California counties, he said.
"Retirees are not replacing regular workers at any significant level," Griffith said. "Retirees don't want to work long-term, full-time. That's why we retired. But we don't mind helping out when we can."
Griffith said he worked about 100 hours for the county in 2003 and believes both he and the county benefited.
"I spent 34 years with this county and I still care about it," he said. "I enjoyed contributing."
Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said he's concerned that reemploying retired workers limits younger workers' promotion opportunities.
"It is absolutely essential the county continue to investigate the use of retirees on the payroll," Berardino said. "It's a problem because it stifles the growth and development of less senior county workers."
Board Chairman Bill Campbell said it is important that the matter be addressed soon because about 500 county workers are expected to retire in July when the county begins offering a dramatically increased pension benefit.
Campbell said he was concerned that some county workers would retire with the hope of being rehired.