A hospital in Italy’s southern region of Calabria fired Salvatore Scumace for not showing up to work.
For 15 years.
Scumace, 67, was fired last year from the Pugliese Ciaccio Hospital in the city of Catanzaro, but the news made headlines in Italy this week when Italy’s financial police announced their investigation into his remarkable record of absenteeism. His case was uncovered as part of a wider investigation into absenteeism by public workers.
While Scumace has not yet been arrested or formally charged, police informed him that he could face a raft of charges, including abuse of office, forgery and aggravated extortion.
He is accused of earning an estimated 538,000 euros, or more than $645,000, for a job that police say he never performed over the course of his long and less-than-productive career as a hospital fire-safety employee.
Scumace was not immediately reachable for comment. His lawyer, Luca de Munda, said that he had not discussed the accusations with Scumace and noted that the case was “very complex and in an embryonic stage, too early to comment.”
Instead of reporting for a single shift to monitor security cameras and hospital hallways for fire emergencies, police said in a news release, he walked around his neighborhood, telling his friends that he was already retired. Otherwise, he mostly took it easy at home.
A chronic problem in some public sector jobs, Italian police have cracked down in recent years on no-show employees, investigating dozens of cases around the country. A 2016 law made it easier to fire public employees playing hooky.
The public emergence of Scumace’s case this week for some made him a loafer of folkloric proportions, elevating, or lowering, the do-nothing bureaucratic job to an art form. But mostly the reports infuriated a country that is sick and tired of the free-riding “timecard weasels,” as they are colloquially known, who burden the system, hold the country back and propagate an unflattering Italian stereotype.
The financial police investigating Scumace have focused on how he was able to get away with it, and the results, they say, suggest cultural, and possibly criminal, root causes.
One director of Scumace’s unit reported his absence in 2005, and threatened to file a disciplinary report over his failure to ever show up for work. Shortly after, an unknown man harassed her and her family, the police said. Intimidated, the director stayed silent and soon retired.
Two officials from the human resources department and another one from Scumace’s own unit, however, abetted his absence through negligence, the police said, and are now themselves under investigation, accused of abuse of office for failing to report him.
Three hospital managers who examined his case last year and concluded that it was “impossible” to take any disciplinary actions are also under investigation, according to police.
The Pugliese Ciaccio Hospital’s general director, Francesco Procopio, said that the hospital had curbed absenteeism in recent years, but this case was peculiar because Scumace did not come up in the electronic database.
“This paradoxical problem generated here, of course, but the hospital does not deserve this bad publicity,” Procopio said. “Workers here are fighting COVID and all illnesses here every day, and such behaviors are offensive to them and to all the people of Calabria.”
Fifty-seven public employees, half working at the Pugliese Ciaccio Hospital, where Scumace was employed, and half for the local health administration in Catanzaro, are currently on trial for charges related to missing work.
According to prosecutors, some hid their faces under open umbrellas as they swiped the timecards of colleagues otherwise engaged in grocery shopping or playing video poker. A high-ranking doctor at the same hospital allegedly skipped his afternoon shift for years. He was promoted to head physician before his absenteeism was discovered, and now he is suspended and is facing a criminal trial.
Northern Italians often associate the issue of absenteeism with Italy’s south, but the proudly workaholic north is not without its no-shows.
In 2015, in San Remo, on Italy’s northwestern coast, 42 town hall workers were put on trial, accused of cheating the system for years by getting colleagues or relatives to swipe their timecards for them. Ten of the employees were acquitted, including a traffic officer who lived in the building and was captured with a hidden camera clocking into work in his underwear. He showed up later in his clothes, he argued, and was just saving time.