Payroll errors leave faculty without answers

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Ivy Ken, the interim chair of the sociology department, said she received an August paycheck that was one fourth of the amount she should receive per month. Ken was one of at least three employees whose paychecks for the month were incorrect.

Updated: Sept. 29, 2016 at 8:21 a.m.

At least three faculty members had significant errors in their paychecks this month.

Each of the faculty members said they either received more or less than what they had expected for that pay period. Those employees said staff from the payroll office told them they would either have to pay the University back the amount they were overpaid, or past errors had led to them to have been overpaid in previous months.

Ivy Ken, interim chair of the sociology department, said she received an August paycheck that was one fourth of the amount she should receive per month. Ken gets paid on a deferred plan, meaning that her salary is spread out over 12 monthly paychecks, rather than the standard nine months faculty are usually paid, based on when they teach.

Ken took a yearlong sabbatical last year when she earned a Fulbright grant, which changed the total salary she earned that year. But she was still set to receive 12 checks each year. Still, Ken said that administrators blamed her unusually small paycheck on the sabbatical year.

Christopher Bracey, vice provost for faculty affairs, said in an email that faculty members routinely go on sabbaticals, paid leave and unpaid leave, and the University handles the majority of those payroll changes without problems.

“In some instances, an error or delay in the processing of a request for a change in status may result in a faculty member being temporarily overpaid or underpaid,” Bracey said. “Fortunately, the University discovers and corrects these errors quickly.”

Ken said that after trying to remedy the situation with the payroll office multiple times, she spoke with Annie Wooldridge, associate provost for faculty recruitment and personnel relations. Wooldridge told Ken that although the paycheck was small, she had actually been overpaid for the past 11 months due to an accounting error after her sabbatical, Fulbright grant and deferred pay.

Ken is still appealing for the $3,050 she expected at the end of August because she needs to pay bills, and her attempts to solve the problem situation were not addressed promptly, she said.

She said her “trust is irrevocably broken,” and administrators have not done enough to help her.

“I do not feel as if I am being treated as a human being,” Ken said. “The University would rather hold onto $4,000 than maintain my goodwill. It’s a very big slap in my face.”

As of this week — almost a month after the problem arose — Ken said administrators have not solved the problem.

While trying to sort out her situation, Ken said she spoke with Jim Montgomery, director of payroll services, who told her that she was one of about a dozen employees to receive abnormal paychecks that month. Montgomery told Ken that Banner, the software used by the University to administer paychecks, does not have a mechanism to accurately calculate pay for a professor simultaneously on sabbatical and a deferred pay schedule.

Employees in the payroll office normally calculate paychecks manually. But Ken said that she confirmed with Montgomery that staffing cuts earlier this year, which laid off about 40 employees across the University, left the office short-staffed.

“The layoffs the University enacted have consequences, both for those who lost their jobs and for the functioning of the University they have had to leave behind,” Ken said. “They were valuable members of the University, and this situation shows just how much we need them.”

University officials declined to provide the number of employees who work in the payroll office or how many paychecks were processed incorrectly this month. Montgomery declined to answer any questions through a University spokesman.

Gregory Squires, a professor of sociology, said he received a notice in August that he had been overcompensated and was asked to either write a check to the University or receive a reduction from future paychecks to make up the difference. Squires said he chose to have money deducted from future paychecks.

“I can’t say that it’s been a major impact on me, but it’s an inconvenience,” he said. “We assume that it’s accurate, and we plan our spending accordingly. Now I have to make slight adjustments.”

Squires said it bothered him that two other employees who had also been overcompensated were copied on an email to him from officials. The email included the amounts all three employees had been overpaid, he said.

“They shouldn’t be sharing names of people like this, and I can only guess that the other people on the email received my name,” Squires said. “I don’t know if there’s any formal rules here, but it just seems to me that there’s a general understanding that people’s compensation is confidential and is not to be publicly shared like this.”

Officials declined to answer questions about the confidentiality of faculty pay information or why multiple people were copied on Squires’ email, citing a University policy to not discuss personnel issues.

Erin Chapman, an associate professor of history, said she received an email earlier this month notifying her that an additional $400 will be deducted from her Sept. 30 paycheck to cover a health and benefits contribution that should have been deducted last academic year.

“I have no way of knowing if the miscalculation occurred last school year as the email indicates or if the email is itself the result of a current miscalculation or other problem,” Chapman said in an email. “In any case, with very little warning, I will have to absorb a substantial reduction in my anticipated monthly income due to a payroll error.”

Kym Calvo, interim director of compensation at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said faculty should be paid on time and in the right amount, but mistakes can happen and should be corrected quickly.

“But doing those things takes time and effort and you try to limit that issue before it happens,” Calvo said. “Anytime we have some pay issue, we have everyone work on fixing it as fast as we can.”

She said errors often arise from employees’ mistakes. For instance, a faculty member may forget to notify the payroll office about a sabbatical, or there could be a system error.

“I recently went through a payroll system upgrade and payroll issues came from the upgrade,” Calvo said. “But we all worked as collaboratively and as quickly as we can to get the employee paid.”

Catherine Moran contributed reporting.

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