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.

For the second time in less than a year, a report from Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock’s office suggests that the parish government is spending too much money giving overtime pay to employees who aren’t eligible for it under federal law.

The parish paid $1,478,645 in overtime to 249 so-called exempt employees in 2014, just $14,484 less than the $1,493,129 in overtime given to such workers in 2013.

After an audit released by McClintock’s office in April cited the 2013 amount, parish officials said they had already implemented measures that would reduce the amount of overtime pay for employees classified as exempt, but a new IG’s report released Thursday morning showed there was no meaningful change.

In fact, the report said, the parish spent more in 2014 ($8.5 million) than it did in 2013 ($6.9 million) on overtime pay for all employees, including those entitled to it under federal law.

The report said one of the biggest reasons the parish did not save any money on overtime was its insistence on paying exempt employees — typically supervisors on salary — for any time they were away from the office but considered to be on stand-by.

The parish has defended that practice by saying it is critical to have workers who are responsible for duties such as operating flood-protection pumps on stand-by to ensure the public’s safety in case of bad weather.

Jefferson Parish still spending $1.5 million a year on overtime pay for employees not entitled to it, IG re...

Employees on stand-by can’t relax in the same way that workers who are completely off-duty can, and they deserve to be compensated for that, according to the parish, which had 3,091 employees in 2014.

But the IG’s Office has noted that such employees are routinely scheduled to be on stand-by even when forecasts indicate that the weather will be calm for several days; that it’s relatively rare for stand-by employees to be called into action; and that, under the parish’s own policies, they should be compensated with time off from work instead of overtime pay.

Further, the IG’s report said, the parish often opts to pay exempt employees for being on stand-by even when that function seems to fall under the duties required by their job descriptions.

McClintock’s office said scaling back stand-by pay for exempt employees by one-third would save the parish in excess of $570,000, while reducing it by half would save more than $850,000.

Former Parish President John Young’s administration wrote a response to a draft version of the IG’s report before he left office in early January. While conceding that it is important to carefully manage the amount of overtime paid to exempt workers, the response said parish rules allow the government to ensure “experienced and skilled employees are available to address critical or emergency events.”

It also said that withholding stand-by compensation from exempt employees who earned it had “the effect of a reduction in pay.”

The administration of Young’s successor, Mike Yenni, also issued a response to the IG’s latest report, saying it recognized “the need to evaluate and reduce overtime pay.”

However, before enacting any major changes, the Yenni administration said it wants to wait for two things it hopes will happen later this year: changes to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that are expected to redefine exactly which employees qualify for exempt status, and the completion of an ongoing study assessing whether wages paid by the parish correspond with the level of workers’ responsibilities.

“The administration agrees that those employees classified as exempt will work whatever hours are required and that they will adjust their working schedules,” said the response written by Yenni’s deputy chief administrative officer, Natalie Newton. “However ... the parish should pride itself in recruiting quality employees by offering competitive wages.”

McClintock is scheduled to discuss the new report at a March 16 meeting of the parish’s Ethics & Compliance Commission in the second-floor Parish Council chambers at 1221 Elmwood Park Blvd.

McClintock, a former Baltimore inspector general, was hired in 2013 as Jefferson’s first IG. His office is tasked with preventing waste, corruption and fraud in parish government, while promoting efficiency and transparency in its operations.