Human Resource Practices

Issued Date
September 25, 2019
State University of New York Upstate Medical University


To determine if State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University has developed and consistently applied policies and procedures related to select human resource functions. This audit covered the period from January 1, 2015 through June 24, 2019.

About the Program

As Central New York’s largest employer, SUNY Upstate Medical University (Upstate) has roughly 10,000 employees supporting its operations. The Human Resource Department (HR) manages and supports resources for Upstate’s workforce across four colleges, a research enterprise, and a network of patient care facilities. HR develops local human resource-related policies in conjunction with SUNY System Administration, maintains personnel records, and oversees many other daily activities, such as verifying references on prospective employee job applications and processing employee leave requests.

Established human resource policies and procedures help ensure applicants are qualified for employment and employees receive appropriate compensation. Policies and procedures also provide guidance for ensuring the safety and security of staff, students, patients, and visitors; protecting confidential data and information; and preventing the loss of university property.

Key Findings

Insufficient HR monitoring and oversight and inadequate or poorly enforced policies and procedures have contributed to questionable and/or weak practices that render Upstate vulnerable to misuse of funds and safety and security risks. For example:

  • Upstate paid 12 employees a total of $4.7 million in additional compensation for work beyond their regular job duties (known as an “Also Receives” [ALR] allowance), but did not maintain adequate documentation to support either the basis for the dollar amount or the additional duties that employees were tasked with. Where ALRs are not appropriately supported, there is a risk they’re not being used for the intended and approved purpose and funds are potentially being misspent.
  • Upstate has not established policies or procedures for alternate work (off-campus) assignments (Assignments). As such, department supervisors who oversee these Assignments lack guidance regarding how to manage them (e.g., setting work details for employees, monitoring their progress), increasing the risk that department supervisors are accepting, and Upstate is paying for, inferior work products. We reviewed 38 Assignments from January 1, 2015 to November 11, 2018. Of those 38 Assignments, for which Upstate paid $1,374,670, 20 (amounting to nearly $940,000 in payroll costs) were deemed not useful, of poor quality, or otherwise inadequate by the supervisors.
  • SUNY System Administration continued to pay a former President her presidential salary of $608,000 while she was on leave in the job title of Special Assistant to the President – and while Upstate was also paying an interim President a presidential salary – but could not provide documentation to justify this decision.
  • HR does not adequately follow, enforce, or monitor its policies and procedures that address when employees leave Upstate, increasing safety and security risks and rendering Upstate vulnerable to inappropriate access of confidential data and loss of property. The files for 169 of the 274 former employees we reviewed did not have the required separation documentation supporting that the former employees’ access rights have been terminated and that Upstate property in their possession has been returned.
  • HR did not maintain documentation to support that the required two references had been checked for 17 of 80 new hires. In response to our preliminary findings, officials were subsequently able to locate documentation from either the applicable department or hiring agency for 13 of the 17 to support that two references had been obtained. For the remaining 4 new hires, Upstate officials relied on verbal assertions to support hiring the individual and either did not check or did not document having checked two references.

Key Recommendations

  • Develop written procedures for ALR-related transactions, including documenting the specific duties that justify additional pay and obtaining and retaining the justification for decisions concerning the dollar amount associated with each ALR.
  • Establish and enforce policies and procedures to require stronger oversight of Assignments, including more clearly defined processes for work product submission and retention to ensure work products are useful and sufficient given the duration of the Assignments.
  • Formally document leave salary decisions to justify that the amount granted is commensurate with the job title and duties performed.
  • Develop, monitor, and enforce a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that address hiring and separation. These policies and procedures should be standardized and applied uniformly to all Upstate departments and groups of employees and should include a consistent process for checking professional references and verifying that all required reference checks have been conducted.

Brian Reilly

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Brian Reilly
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236