Uncovering a Six-Year Ditch in Spain

If an employee doesn’t show up to work for six years and no one notices, was the employee really that essential in the first place?

City officials in Cadiz, Spain are left to ponder this existential riddle after determining that Joaquin Garcia—a 69-year-old civil servant who was thought to be supervising the construction of a water treatment plant—was AWOL from his job for more than half a decade before being found out.

As if that wasn’t wacky enough, the way in which this serial slacker’s ruse was eventually discovered is almost too good to be true.

As USA Today reports, the water company thought that Garcia’s position was within the purview of the Cadiz city council, while city officials were under the impression that Garcia reported to leadership at the water company.

Amid this confusion, it seems his extreme absenteeism somehow went almost completely undetected, and apparently didn’t faze those at the water company who happened to notice that Garcia hadn’t been to work in a really, really long time. One manager, for example, even admitted to “not having seen Garcia for years, despite having an office across from him,” according to the paper.

Still, seeing Garcia’s workspace sit unoccupied for years on end evidently didn’t alarm this co-worker (or any of Garcia’s other colleagues?) enough to raise any concerns.

No, the jig was only up when deputy mayor Jorge Blas arrived to present Garcia with an award for—of all things—his 20 years of “loyal and dedicated service” to the city in 2010.

Garcia, of course, was nowhere to be found.

“[I wondered], is he still there? Has he retired? Has he died? But the payroll showed he was still receiving a salary,” Blas recently told media outlets. “I called him up and asked him, ‘What did you do yesterday? The month before, the month before that? He didn’t know what to say.”

An investigation was launched in short order, revealing that Garcia hadn’t been to his office in at least six years and had done “absolutely no work” between 2007 and 2010, according to USA Today. Legal action was taken against him in 2010. The case only concluded last week, with Garcia being fined approximately $30,000.

Garcia, who retired in 2011, has written to the city’s mayor asking that the fine be waived, and has requested a review of the judgment, according to BBC News. Garcia also maintains that he didn’t simply stop coming to work, but was assigned to a post “where there was no work to do” after being bullied on the job for his socialist political leanings, the BBC reports.

Whatever precipitated Garcia’s … let’s call it an extended, unsanctioned vacation, the details uncovered by the subsequent investigation are almost inconceivable. It’s hard to imagine most companies allowing an employee—in this case, a supervisor!—to slip so far between the cracks that he or she could be virtually invisible for any period of time, let alone six years. But, if this far-flung story holds any lessons for the typical HR executive, maybe it’s as a cautionary (if highly improbable) tale that shows just what can happen when reporting structures are unclear and communication is lacking.