By Mike Baker Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A government employee in Washington state gave 85 hours of free massages at work last year as she practiced to become a massage therapist, according to an audit report released Monday.
The State Auditor’s Office said in its findings that the unnamed Department of Ecology employee gave the massages — ranging from 30-90 minute sessions — to her co-workers. Auditors said the 85 hours of free massages does not count the time the worker spent sending 271 email messages related to the work.
Sandi Peck, a spokeswoman for the Department of Ecology, said the agency would be following up to assess the matter further.
“We certainly don’t want to defend it,” Peck said. “It was against policy. We take the ethics policy we have very seriously.”
The employee had been working as an environmental specialist in the agency’s spills program. She no longer works for the agency.
The employee’s Internet history showed that she had browsed social networking sites, music, airlines, cooking information and her personal email account — all apparent violations of agency policy. The state’s email system was used to schedule appointments with other employees, and the massages were given in the department’s “health wellness room.”
Those massages were provided throughout the past year, with 13 provided in the month of August totaling 15 hours.
Some of the emails indicated that the worker had discussed converting co-workers to paying customers once she had obtained her license and opened a massage business.
The audit conclusions are being forwarded to the Executive Ethics Board for potential action. Ecology officials say they are working to refresh employees on proper use of state resources, particularly at the Northwest Regional Office where the employee worked.