Chris Daugherty, 35, who won the ninth season of the CBS show, filed a false claim that he needed time off because he was under stress and suffering from depression, an Ohio Department of Transportation hearing officer ruled Thursday.
He landed the $1 million prize in 2004 for "Survivor: Vanuatu — Islands of Fire," but returned to his $34,000-a-year job with ODOT, working on roads in central Ohio.
But Daugherty could face penalties ranging from reprimand to dismissal, ODOT spokesman Andrew Gall said.
"Daugherty's claim that he had an illness which just happened to coincide with his 'Survivor' tour is simply not credible," wrote ODOT chief investigator Les Reel.
After his requests for time off were denied, he submitted a false doctor's excuse saying he was suffering from anxiety and depression and needed a month of medical leave, ODOT's investigation found.
ODOT said Daugherty's initial requests were refused because he had already used all but 29 hours of his vacation days, sick leave and personal time. Officials said he even submitted a request for military leave — despite never being in the armed services — because the "Survivor" tour was scheduled to visit a military base in Germany.
ODOT officials said Daugherty acknowledged afterward to investigators that he used the time off to attend the CBS-sponsored "Survivor" tour in Germany and Italy last Sept. 25 through Oct. 8, for which he was paid $8,000. He took an additional two weeks off after the tour before returning to work, ODOT records show.
Thursday evening, Daugherty said that he did not want to comment until consulting with a lawyer.