Baltimore officials hope to fix by Feb. 19 the city’s ongoing payroll problem that has left more than 1,000 city employees with incomplete or missing paychecks, city finance officials said Wednesday.
During an investigative hearing held by a Baltimore City Council committee, top officials in the city’s finance, information technology and human resources departments attempted to explain what went wrong in implementing a new payroll system. With the transition to Workday software, Baltimore sought to modernize a system that previously relied on paper time sheets.
But the switch has been faulted for problems reported by employees across the more than 13,000-member workforce. There have been issues with incorrect and missing paychecks, as well as incorrect calculations of leave and other benefits.
Todd Carter, the city’s director of information technology, said there were particular fields that were unnecessary within the previous system that are required in Workday, including an employee’s location and supervisory organization.
Locations are particularly important for Baltimore Police Department officers, who have been among the most affected of the city’s employees. That’s because they’re required to clock in within a certain set of geographical coordinates, Carter said.
The city issued the first round of checks using solely the new software Jan. 8. By late January, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 said about 800 of its 2,400 members were still receiving insufficient paychecks. A union representative said Wednesday that 500 members have ongoing issues.
Finance Director Henry Raymond said the city has been tracking the impact of the issues via the number off-cycle checks the city has issued. That’s a supplemental payment issued to an employee when the salary in their standard paycheck is too low.
In total, the city has issued more than 5,000 off-cycle checks since the problems began, Raymond said. He noted that the number of off-cycle checks issued has dramatically increased since the first two weeks that checks were issued under the new system.
Democratic Councilman Mark Conway, chair of council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee, questioned whether the off-cycle checks were an accurate way to track to the number of employees affected or whether they simply account for the employees who have complained.
Raymond said the city has the ability to create reports of employees who were completely unpaid during any given pay period. Those figures have dropped to 6 to 10 employees per two-week pay period, which is not an unusual number, he said.
Raymond attributed numerous problems with the transition to human error, saying timesheets have been approved too late by supervisors. During the first pay period under the new system 30% of time sheets had to be approved without a validation from the agencies they came from.
Democratic Councilwoman Danielle McCray said the city’s training for Workday’s implementation was inadequate. McCray said her experience using the platform was difficult.
“This is not just a human error thing,” she said.
Carter said the pandemic made training employees challenging because they could not be convened in large groups during the coronavirus pandemic. The city wanted to avoid introducing a “superspreader event,” and had to instead rely on more “trickle-down” methods of training, such as webinars.
Quinton Herbert, the city’s director of human resources, said Baltimore had six training sessions with the Department of Public Works last Thursday and Friday to help bring employees up to speed.
The switch to Workday is a three-year project budgeted at approximately $44.4 million. Baltimore paid the company directly for the software, which was a $9.7 million piece of the ultimate price tag. City officials have said they expect a $25 million benefit annually as a result of the improved payroll process, particularly due to its controls on overtime.
Democratic Councilman Zeke Cohen questioned whether the city was going to compensate employees for fees and other financial hardships incurred due to their loss of pay. Raymond said agency heads have been directed to have employees submit expense reports for costs such as late fees or a repossessed vehicle.
“We take full responsibility for the additional costs this will represent,” Raymond said. It’s the right thing to do for the employees.”
Council members said they had heard from numerous constituents about the payroll problem. Democratic Councilman James Torrence said one city employee in his district has been issued 17 off-cycle checks in the last year.
Rich Langford, president of the local representing the city’s rank and file firefighters, said city officials have failed to keep employees informed about the payroll problem. The union sent more than 100 emails to finance officials flagging problems with payroll and hasn’t responses to any, he said.
Langford questioned why the city proceeded with the Workday transition in the midst of the pandemic.
“This was a letdown from the top to the bottom with IT, HR, finance,” he said. “The communication has been absolutely horrible through this process. Our membership deserves much better.”
A few city employees personally testified during the hearing. Taylor Hall, a forensic scientist with the city police department, called the payroll switch a “complete nightmare.” When the transition was made, Hall’s title was listed incorrectly in the system and she received the wrong pay as a result. Hall said she followed proper protocols to correct the issue but it persisted for four pay cycles.
“I think the city did not do its due diligence or consider its employees when they moved to Workday,” she said.
Democratic Councilman Antonio Glover issued a public apology to affected city employees during the hearing, noting he hadn’t heard one from the staff members testifying.
“I want to apologize to the men and women who have busted their butts to do a job and for not getting compensated,” he said, also thanking co-workers who have stepped up to help their colleagues use the system.
Carter quickly apologized, as well.
“If we didn’t expressly communicate an apology, I’m sorry for that, but certainly I have remorse,” he said.