AU paycheck changes ease and add to employee burden

Susan Norton, Vice President of Human Resources at Augusta University & Health System, speaks to Augusta University employees during a meeting at the Augusta University Summerville campus.

Because they deal with residents who work crazy hours at Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Debbie Langston and Laurel Jones also must work crazy hours. That could become a problem because they will soon have to clock in, even though they should be exempt from new federal rules.

 

And they could end up losing vacation time they can’t take because of it.

“It’s just going to be a nightmare,” Langston said.

The changes at AU are coming about through new rules in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that must be enacted by Dec. 1. The rules classify those making $47,476 or less a year who had previously been exempt from overtime as now being hourly employees who must compensated for any hours worked over 40 per week.

At two meetings Wednesday with employees, there was some good news in that the effective date has been moved up to Oct. 23 so employees will be getting a full check in the first pay period of November, said Susan Norton, AU’s vice president of human resources. With a previous start date of Nov. 1, employees would have received pay for only four days on Nov. 10 because of the lag time needed to process timecards, which had caused an outcry among some employees who said that would be a hardship.

Norton said the school appealed to the University System of Georgia and got the exemption. The change means the October paycheck for some will be six days short and those affected employees would be able to cash in up to 48 hours of vacation time to help with that. That pay will be taxed at a separate rate because it is a payout and that rate would effectively be more than 31 percent, Norton said after Summerville employees questioned it.

“That’s not a perfect solution either,” Norton said. “There are no perfect solutions here.”

There are fewer than 200 employees, the majority of whom are post-doctoral fellows, who are getting a raise to bring their salaries up to the exempt level, Norton said. Other schools raised post-doctoral salaries in response to the rule and AU needed to follow suit to “remain competitive,” she said.

Many employees questioned how they would be compensated for time spent working from home or answering calls or emails that are work-related. Much of that will be up to their managers and they might have to become more flexible in scheduling, Norton said. But it might also take a change in mindset as to what really constitutes an urgent call or email, she said.

The school needs “to help people realize they can’t just call you at 8 o’clock at night,” Norton said.

But that’s not really an option for Langston, who is coordinator for residents in adult and child neurology, and Jones, who handles neurosurgery residents. Those residents are working at all hours and the coordinators are the ones that get the call when something goes wrong, such as a resident’s badge that won’t work to get him into an on-call room, Langston said.

“They call me at home if they are sick, if they are running late,” she said.

“We’re like their mother,” Jones said.

But a decision was made to treat all of the coordinators, some whose salaries would make them exempt and others who would not, the same, Norton said. So even though their salaries would put them in the exempt category, Jones and Langston now must account for their time, and now fear they will be accumulating a lot of comp time.

“I haven’t clocked in in 15 years,” Langston said.

Because there is a rule that comp time must be taken before vacation time, they now fear losing vacation time that they have struggled to take all of before this.

“You can’t cash out your vacation time,” Jones said, outside of the one exception the university system is granting for employees affected by the transition.

Because comp time must be taken in the fiscal year and vacation is on a calendar schedule, there might be a way to manage that, Norton said. But she had been unaware of the specific problem before Wednesday and vowed to look into it after the last meeting.

“We’re all going to learn a lot as we go through this transition,” Norton said.

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