The “Faithful Employee” Award Which Had the Opposite Effect

There’s a water treatment facility in Cádiz, Spain, which even if you knew of it, you probably didn’t think much about it. We tend to take things like clean water for granted, but really, there are a lot of people who do a lot of work to ensure that it reaches our homes, schools, places of employment, and everywhere else. And then there are people who do things to help those people do their jobs, and so on, and so forth. For about two decades, Joaquín García was one of those people. For a 20-year period running into 2010, García was a building supervisor, most recently overseeing the construction of that water treatment facility in Cádiz.

That’s a long time, and as the anniversary approached, the people of Cádiz wanted to recognize García for his years and years of service. There was only one problem:

García no longer worked there.

But only in the most literal sense of the word “worked.”

García was most definitely still a municipal employee — he had been drawing a salary — he just didn’t do any work. And for the past six years, he hadn’t even bothered to show up to the office. No one seemed to notice or care, either. But when deputy mayor Jorge Blas reached out to García to tell him about the faithful service award he was to receive, for the first time in recent memory, someone finally cared enough to notice that he was always absent.

His absence should have been obvious: lIke most other civil servants of his rank and tenure, García had an office in the municipal building in Cádiz, and the fact that no one had been in that office for the better part of a decade should have been a clue. But García’s role was ambiguous — there’s a pretty good argument to be made that a building supervisor should be stationed on or near the site of the construction. That’s how Blas saw it, at least; as he explained to the press (translated and relayed by the Independent), “we thought the water company was supervising him.” (“That,” Blas continued, “was not the case.”) The water company thought García was stationed where his office was and reported there, and that García’s boss was another municipal employee, all of which was correct. They also thought that García was showing up to work, but in that case, they were wrong.

García claimed that his absence from work was justified; per the BBC, he claimed that “he was bullied due to his family’s politics, and was sent to the water company to be out of the way” — that is, he was given a do-nothing job at which he was subject to all sorts of harassment. Reporting the misbehavior of his colleagues, he feared, would get him fired, so that was a non-option. Instead, he figured, if he was being paid to do nothing anyway, why show up just to be picked on? So at some point or another, García simply stopped showing up to work. He didn’t admit to when he began his lengthy bout of absenteeism, but an investigation showed that he was AWOL from 2004 to 2010 in the very least. (García claimed he showed up on occasion if not often, but admitted that when he did, he’d simply sit at his desk and read about philosophy, with a particular interest in the writings of Spinoza.)

García wasn’t fired, amazingly — efforts to do so required a lengthy legal process, one the city undertook, but he reached retirement age before they got to that point. (Assumedly, García was on unpaid leave from the point his misdeeds were discovered until a final adjudication, but English-language reports don’t go into that level of detail.) In 2014, though, the courts finally ruled against him. Fortunately for García, what he did was not criminal and the amount he could be fined was rather limited. He was ordered to pay €27,000 — about $30,000 — which is a hefty amount, but in context, seemingly little: the job he didn’t show up to paid him €37,000 ($41,500) annually.

And no, he didn’t end up getting his award for twenty years of service.

Bonus fact: Incredibly, García isn’t the only Spanish civil servant to not show up to a job for a very long time. In July of 2018, a man named Carlos Recio was banned from working in the public sector after officials found out that he, too, wasn’t actually working. In Recio’s case, though, he didn’t skip entirely — he just took extraordinarily long lunch breaks; as the Independent explains, he “turned up to his office each morning at 7.30am to clock in, before heading out for the day and only returning to clock out at 4pm.” And for more than nine years, no one seemed to notice. He was fired and the court which adjudicated his matter barred him from public service jobs in the future.

From the Archives: What About Bob?: Another man that didn’t work a lot.