Unsuspecting Army employees may qualify for overtime

Thousands of civilian Army employees may be eligible for overtime pay even though they haven't been getting it. An Army review is seeking to determine whether the service's civilian employees are properly classified under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which guarantees time-and-a-half overtime pay to covered employees. Covered or "non-exempt" employees are subject to the act's overtime pay provisions, while "exempt" employees are not. Although the departmentwide review is finished, the Army won't reveal its results because the service's subordinate commands are studying how to implement the review's findings. "We do not now know how many, if any, employees have been affected," said Maj. Ryan Yantis, an Army spokesman. "The subordinate commands are in the process of reviewing and implementing the Army review. Results will not be known for several months." While the Army was hesitant to provide departmentwide information on the number and grades of the positions involved, the review found that 1,715 employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are misclassified under the FLSA, according to Joe Levy, deputy director of human resources at the Army Corps. The Army looked at the classification of 9,485 Army Corps employees between the grades of GS-7 and GS-12, Levy said. The review found that 1,715 of these employees should be covered by the FLSA but are currently not covered because of "coding errors" in the Army's old personnel database. Levy said the Army conducted its review as part of a departmentwide changeover to the new defense civilian personnel data system. As a precurser to launching this database throughout the department, the Army performed a variety of checks on data from the old personnel database. One of these tests was to check the classification of some civilian employees under the FLSA. The misclassified Army Corps employees are not concentrated in certain occupations, according to Levy. "The kinds of jobs affected are representative of the kinds of jobs we have," Levy said. "Nothing jumps out as [being] disproportionate." Levy said the Corps sent letters out to subordinate commanders last week asking them to review and then implement the Army's findings. "Folks in the field are reviewing the Army's determinations," Levy said. "If there was some reason to contest the decisions the Army made, we would go back to [Army] headquarters." Eighteen percent of the Army Corps employees who were included in the review were wrongly classified under the FLSA. Levy indicated that some employees between GS-7 and GS-12 were not included in the Army's review. While Levy could not provide Army-wide numbers, he said that the Army Corps was at the "low end" of Army commands affected by the FLSA miscoding error. Disputes over employees' coverage under the FLSA have often resulted in union grievances seeking back pay and benefits. The Army is moving slowly to make sure the review is handled properly, according to an official familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity. "We're trying to take care of the employees and maintain the Army's interests at the same time," the official said. But some challenges to the Army's review may be inevitable. "Let's say I represented those 1,715 employees at the [Army] Corps," said Mark Gibson, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1882 at Fort McCoy, Wis. "I'd file a grievance claiming they were improperly classified [under the FLSA] and would request back pay." In 1998, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had to pay a group of employees $3 million in back overtime pay because the agency had misclassified them as exempt from FLSA. Computer specialists at the Veterans Health Administration recently won nearly $1 million in back wages in a FLSA dispute. Army Corps employees who feel they may be affected by the FLSA review should contact their local personnel officer, Levy said.
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