County union employees who receive hourly overtime shouldn’t expect a windfall of money after the county found it had been inadvertently underpaying overtime to some workers for more than a decade.
The underpayments were linked to parts of hourly pay called allowances and shift differentials. These are annual payments backed into an employee’s hourly rate. Allowances could include uniform cleaning, physical fitness and service weapon payments.
For example, an employee might make an additional 93 cents an hour as they accrued yearly allowances. When working overtime the employee’s overtime pay would increase, but federal law requires the allowance rates to increase alongside the employee’s base rate. The formula didn’t account for the allowances, so money was left out of the total, said Andy Rhodes, the county’s personnel officer.
County officials said employees didn’t complain about the missing allowances, and it is likely they weren’t even aware they were backed into the payments.
“It is a lot of moving parts,” Rhodes told the County Council Monday. “We are hoping to have the answer in six to nine months.”
Despite annual audits, the county’s personnel office didn’t know about the underpayments until the new payroll vendor processed its first checks on April 27. County personnel officials noticed shift differential was not calculated correctly, so all of the calculations were reviewed, Rhodes said. Shift differential is increased pay for work during certain hours of the day.
Rhodes estimated the county could pay a total of $5 million as a “worst case scenario”, with the final total split across all of the employees over those years. Employees primarily affected are police, fire, correctional officers and maintenance workers in public works. An independent auditor is being hired to determine the full scope and cost of the error while the the county’s law office is reviewing potential legal actions and who will be liable for the cost of the error.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1563 president Joe Addivinola said the overtime underpayments are just another brick in a wall of issues with the county’s payments to firefighters. The firefighter union is currently in arbitration with the city.
The county’s firefighters are underpaid compared to other departments in the region, he said.
Addivinola said the fire department would be hit the hardest because staffing levels require extensive overtime. Personnel officials at Monday’s meeting said the police department would be hit the hardest.
The county spent $22 million in overtime in fiscal year 2017. Specific costs for police and fire were not available as of press time.
“We are talking a lot of money here,” Addivinola said. “My only hope is that, you know, the members that passed away during this time, the family gets the money or their estate.”
It isn’t known at this time exactly who will be owed money since county officials don’t know who worked overtime when and what types of allowances they were owed as part of that overtime. This includes employees who may no longer work for the company or those who died after leaving county employment.
County Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, used Monday’s budget overview to question Rhodes about the oversight.
The cost of this error is going to impact the county’s budget, it is just a matter of when that occurs, he said.
“I’m concerned for two reasons: For employees who we owe money to and for impact on the budget,” Walker said.