Only when a Spanish civil servant was due to collect an award for two decades of committed service did anyone realise that he had not, in fact, shown up at the office for up to 14 years. Joaquín García, 69, nicknamed the “phantom official” by Spanish newspapers, was paid €37,000 a year to supervise the building of a waste water treatment plant (he has since retired). A court hearing ordered García, who said he had dedicated his years of paid leisure to the study of philosophy, to pay a fine equivalent to a year’s salary. Here are other examples of workplace failures.
1. In August 2015 Charles Simon, an employee of the French national railway company SNCF, publicly admitted receiving a salary of €5,000 a month for 12 years for doing “absolutely nothing”. Far from being content, however, he filed a complaint to the High Council of the Judiciary asking for compensation. The reason? Simon claimed he had been sidelined from a promising career in transport logistics to a well-paid sinecure that ostracised him from the rest of the company and that didn’t require him to leave home. SNCF had failed to give him a new post, he told French media, after he blew the whistle on a suspected €20m fraud case involving an SNCF subsidiary.
2. “Since 1998, I was present but not really there. So I’m going to be well prepared for retirement — Adieu,” wrote a German civil servant in April 2012 on his last day after learning his job had been axed due to cuts. In the email, sent to 500 colleagues, he went on to boast that he had earned as much as £613,000 (€745,000) over 14 years for doing “nothing”. The email was leaked to a regional newspaper, leading to embarrassment about Germany’s public sector and austerity policies in the context of the economic crisis. The municipal state surveyor’s office where he worked in Menden, north-west Germany, said that they would not sanction the former civil servant.
3. In June 2009, Natasha Keenan, a part-time complaints adviser for Barclays, was allowed to keep the full-time salary packet she had been receiving by mistake for almost three years, after she won a legal battle against her employers. Due to an administrative error on the bank’s part, Keenan had been paid £17,000 a year instead of the £9,500 she was due for her part-time service. Ruling that identifying this irregularity was the bank’s responsibility, a judge confirmed that the mother of two did not need to pay back the £20,000 Barclays had demanded.
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