Up to 13,000 state employees appear to be in line for back pay after state officials discovered discrepancies in an antiquated payroll system.
The discovery came earlier this year after the state Department of Budget and Management began implementing a modern electronic payroll system across more than five dozen agencies. Discrepancies amounting to between $2 and $30 per person per pay period become evident during the testing phase of the new system.
“In testing we found there were a lot of different ways things had been done,” said Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley. “There are a lot of benefits to the new system, and this was one of the shortcomings that was discovered. The governor wants to be very transparent about it and let people know he intends to make things right on this. We’re still going to work closely with the unions on a plan to make it right, and we’re fixing the problem. We’ve discovered the problem, and we’re going to get in front of it.”
The exact amount owed is not yet known, but Brinkley said officials believe it is “manageable.”
State officials are still trying to determine the number of affected employees. The problem appears to be limited to about a half-dozen agencies and departments with 24-hour employees, including the Maryland State Police and the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Juvenile Services, General Services and correctional employees within Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Brinkley said the issue appears to involve the calculation of overtime and shift differential pay to employees.
“The administration discovered a payroll problem that predates Governor Hogan,” said Matt Clark, a Hogan spokesman. “This issue cannot be swept under the rug and we are committed to working with state employees to make this right. Governor Hogan was elected to clean up these kinds of problems, and that is precisely what his administration is doing.”
Officials at the AFSCME, the state’s largest public employees union, had not yet been informed of the problem but said it comes as no surprise.
“Our members have raised serious disagreements with the State of Maryland for decades about payroll mistakes which unfairly underpay workers at 24-7 facilities such as state hospitals and prisons,” said Pat Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3. “It turns out that our members were right and the bureaucrats were wrong. We will work aggressively to right this wrong and secure wage fairness for all state employees.”
Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for the union, said complaints regarding payroll problems predate the Hogan administration.
“We’ve been openly disputing some of these payroll issues going back decades,” said Pittman.
Many of the disputes involve employees at correctional facilities or state hospitals with shift differential pay who have shifts that cross pay periods, he said.
“Typically we’d see an employee lose a half-hour or an hour and we’d have to dispute that,” Pittman said.
The problematic system dates back 20 years and in some agencies possibly back to the era of Gov. Marvin Mandel, Brinkley said.
Further complicating matters is that much of the payroll records under review involved manual entries and paper documents. Not every agency did its payroll the same way, and Brinkley said officials are discovering variations even within the same agency.
Standard record-keeping practices go back about three years, but Brinkley said there are variations within many departments.
In addition to shortchanging employees, Brinkley said, some employees could have been overpaid. He said the state was focusing on determining how many employees are owed money and how much each is owed rather than finding overpayments.