Jefferson Parish paid $1.49 million in overtime to employees it’s not required to give it to, audit finds

Advocate photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock speaks before the Parish Council Wednesday, January 15, 2014.

While they made up only about 6 percent of Jefferson Parish’s government workforce, 195 employees who are not owed overtime pay under federal law racked up 22 percent of the overtime compensation doled out by the parish administration in 2013, according to an audit report released Wednesday.

The audit from Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock’s office concluded that many of those so-called “exempt” employees got so much extra money because they were paid for overtime hours when they didn’t actually do any work but had been told to be on standby.

The audit said the parish could realize “considerable ... cost savings” if it modified its overtime pay practices.

“Much of the (questionable) overtime expended was the result of inconsistent policies, inconsistent interpretation and current management practices,” according to the audit.

Parish President John Young issued a response to the audit saying its “findings and conclusions discount the purpose of municipal government in safeguarding the lives and property of its inhabitants and further discount changes to standard operating protocols incorporated in 2014.”

Young said multiple positions have been “appropriately reclassified as ‘nonexempt’ in accordance with (federal law), resulting in ... decreases to expense.” The administration also has implemented a policy saying that except in emergencies, “all overtime expenses must contain justification for the work to be performed and receive authorization” in advance, Young said.

During the period audited, Jefferson Parish paid about $6.9 million in overtime to its 3,391 total employees. Of those, 495 were “exempt,” or not entitled to overtime pay under federal law.

The parish’s own policies say exempt employees “must work whatever hours are required.” Nonetheless, 195 of those exempt employees were paid $1.49 million in overtime, including compensation for being on standby and being called in to work.

The parish’s Water Department accumulated the most overtime pay for exempt employees in the audited period: $394,341. It was followed by the departments of Sewerage, $213,570; Parks and Recreation, $161,472; and Drainage, $158,358.

In its response, the parish administration said any standby employees who are “engaged to wait” must be paid under federal law. Therefore, it said, the parish paid standby, exempt employees one regular hour for every six they spent waiting.

But McClintock’s office said the parish’s own policies classify standby hours as nonworking ones. Moreover, it said, if standby time were actual work, the parish would need to pay waiting employees their regular rate to satisfy federal law.

The audit also directed attention to the parish’s practice of paying standby employees a minimum of two hours if they are summoned to work, on top of whatever time they spent on call. Further, it said, the parish put employees on standby without assessing whether it was necessary.

“It’s distinctly different from prudent fiscal policy,” McClintock said during a presentation of the audit Wednesday.

The parish conceded its departments must minimize overtime in order to reduce expenses, the audit said. Nonetheless, the parish defended giving exempt employees standby pay because emergency repairs are frequently necessary at odd hours.

“Considering the critical services the audited departments provide to Jefferson Parish citizens, we respectfully disagree with certain findings and conclusions contained in (the) audit report,” Young said in his response.

McClintock’s office performed the audit after learning that exempt employees were paid overtime as a matter of routine.

The full report is online at jpoig.net.