Columbia County panel mulls pay changes for 2 HHS workers

March 2, 2019

When is a manager not a manager? And at what point does an employee’s job description warrant placing him or her on salary instead of an hourly pay rate?

These are issues that the Columbia County Board’s Human Resources Committee wrestled with on Friday, before deciding to place two Department of Health and Human Services workers on salary – meaning they are no longer eligible for overtime or compensatory time.

Because Health and Human Services is one of Columbia County’s largest and most complex departments, there are multiple levels of leadership that aren’t found in most departments, observed Joseph Ruf, the county’s human resources director.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires employees to be paid at least time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours worked in a week, according to information on the Department of Labor’s website, dol.gov.

However, employees are exempt from this requirement – and can be paid the same regardless of hours worked – if their job is of an executive, administrative or supervisory nature.

“What that comes down to is, who gets overtime and who doesn’t?” Ruf said.

In Columbia County’s case, Ruf said, an employee who has supervisory authority over at least two other employees is likely to be exempt, and therefore salaried.

In the Health and Human Services Department’s division of behavioral health and long-term support, there are two employees – the children’s disability coordinator and the crisis and alcohol and other drugs coordinator – who were recommended for shift from hourly to salary compensation, to reflect more accurately the leadership aspects of their job duties.

Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard said at least one of them is not likely to be happy about the change.

Committee member Adam Field of Portage said he would support the change only if both employees can retain, and use, the compensatory time off that they have already accumulated as hourly employees. They would, Ruf said.

No one had dollar figures available to indicate how the change from hourly to salary for the two employees would affect what the county spends on employee compensation.

However, it’s generally accepted that salaried employees cost less in the long run than hourly employees who are entitled to overtime pay, Ruf said.

But saving money, by itself, cannot be a reason for switching an employee from hourly to salary, said committee member Barry Pufahl of Pardeeville.

Also, Ruf said, a manager has more direct control over the work schedule of an employee who is entitled to overtime – and costs can be controlled by limiting the hours such an employee may work.

The distinctions between supervisory and front-line employees also tend to be a little murkier in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, where high-ranking officers like lieutenants are “management,” but they also are first responders in an emergency, just as patrol deputies are.

Ruf noted that decisions about whether a particular employee should be considered exempt or non-exempt must be made by the human resources committee; a department head may not make such decisions unilaterally.

In another matter, the committee heard of the imminent retirement of a department head and a 34-year Columbia County employee.

Ruf said Helen Wruck, who heads the county’s child support department, has announced her intention to retire in April. The panel approved an updated job description for the post, and authorized seeking Wruck’s successor.