The Man Who Didn’t Work For a Living

If you’ve never seen the 1999 movie Office Space, you probably should — it’s great. (I gave it four stars on Letterboxd, which, as I’ve previously explained, is very high praise.) And I’m going to ruin a minor plot point in a moment, so stop reading, go watch the movie, and come back in about 90 minutes or so. 

Great movie, right? Glad you liked it.

So now that you’ve watched the movie, you’re definitely familiar with Milton Waddams, the quiet, squirrely collator who is particularly fond of his red Swingline stapler. At some point in the story, Waddams lost his job at Initech but no one ever told him or accounting, so he kept showing up and they kept paying him. To solve the problem, a pair of consultants decide to simply have accounting stop paying Waddams. But he is never told that his position was eliminated, so he keeps coming to work, despite not being paid. It’s not a very good deal, and it probably wouldn’t happen in the real world.

The story of Salvatore Scumace, on the other hand, definitely did happen. His story isn’t the same as Waddams’, though — it’s the opposite.

Scumace was a civil servant assigned to a hospital in Puglia, Italy, in 2005. According to the New York Times, his job involved “monitor[ing] security cameras and hospital hallways for fire emergencies,” and whether he had any duties beyond that has gone unreported. But it really doesn’t matter what he was supposed to do, because, from the get-go, he decided he wasn’t going to do it — Scumace never showed up to work. Per the Times, according to police, “he walked around his neighborhood, telling his friends that he was already retired. Otherwise, he mostly took it easy at home.”

For fifteen years.

In 2016, Italy began a crackdown on absenteeism among civil servants after, per Snopes, “an investigation into 29 Sicilian public sector employees [ . . .] revealed they skipped work an average of 40 percent of the time.” But none of those snared by the authorities were as brazen as Scumace. According to the BBC, Scumace earned — “earned” — €538,000, or just under $600,000, during his 15-year tenure of non-work. And it wasn’t all that hard for him to pull off the stunt. As the BBC reported, police accused Scumace of “threatening his manager to stop her from filing a disciplinary report against him” early in his career at the hospital, and that manager retired without filing a report. After her retirement, Scumace’s “ongoing absence was never noticed by her successor or human resources.”

But his scam was ultimately unsuccessful. When authorities finally caught wind of his unauthorized paid leave, he was arrested and charged with fraud, extortion, and abuse of a public office, according to a local press report. Some superiors of his were charged with sitting around and doing nothing to stop Scumace from sitting around and doing nothing, but the charges against them were ultimately dropped.


Bonus fact: Office Space was a low-budget movie with limited box office success when it hit theaters in 1999, but when it hit network TV and video rental stores (yes, those used to be a thing), it quickly became a cult classic. A few years later, television executives at NBC were looking for a showrunner to bring the unrelated British TV hit, The Office, to viewers in the United States, and they reached out to Office Space’s creator, Mike Judge, to see if he was interested. At first, he was, but as he told Entertainment Weekly, the NBC pitch didn’t make him feel great about himself: “They sent over the British version with a letter and some reviews. The first said, ‘The Office succeeds where movies like Office Space failed.'” Judge decided to not take up NBC on its offer.

From the Archives: The Stapler: A Milton Waddams story.