L.A. Controller Identifies Fire Dept. Overtime Problems at COVID-19 Testing Sites, Calls for Better Oversight

LOS ANGELES — Today, L.A. Controller Ron Galperin released a report analyzing overtime logged by Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees at COVID-19 testing sites in 2020. In “Overtime Oversight: LAFD’s COVID-19 Labor Costs,” Galperin found that the LAFD did not have adequate timekeeping processes in place at testing sites or for pandemic response activities in general, and uncovered several individual payroll errors resulting in overpaying some employees. He called for the LAFD to update its payroll practices and implement better oversight to eliminate waste and potential abuse.

“The pandemic forced the City of Los Angeles to shift resources in order to limit the impact of COVID-19 on residents and businesses,” said Controller Galperin. “Our front-line LAFD workers were assigned to set up and work at testing centers across the City on a moment’s notice, helping to administer millions of tests. These efforts should be lauded, but some workplace difficulties did arise. My office found several clear problems with the way LAFD performed timekeeping and tracked overtime earned at testing sites, resulting in errors and overpayments to some employees. We have an opportunity now to put systems in place that will fix those issues and ensure they don’t happen again.”

WORKING OVERTIME

Long before the pandemic, LAFD employees incurred significant overtime pay due to staffing models enshrined in labor agreements and the requirements of emergency response work. In 2020, LAFD sworn employees accrued more than $236 million in overtime — a record high for the department.

A relatively small portion of that, around $14 million, was overtime from staffing testing sites. A total of 1,801 sworn employees earned overtime in this manner, with 129 of them collecting more than $25,000 each in overtime for COVID-19 response activities.

ADDRESS AND FIX OVERSIGHT ISSUES

Galperin urged the LAFD to take immediate action to improve and strengthen its timekeeping and payroll oversight:

  • Revise timekeeping practices for all non-regular work hours to require sworn staff to check in and out with real-time location information for each shift.
  • Establish an internal oversight process that identifies and validates overtime by sworn staff prior to processing payroll and reviews the overtime of all high earners.
  • Analyze pandemic response payroll data to identify errors and seek reimbursement for any overtime payments made to sworn staff who inappropriately reported working overtime during a regular shift.
  • Streamline automated timekeeping and payroll practices to ensure more accurate labor cost reporting.

EXPLORE OVERTIME WITH NEW DASHBOARDS

Along with the report, Controller Galperin created interactive dashboards that allow users to explore LAFD overtime over the past five years and the department’s COVID-19 labor expenses. The overtime dashboard follows the data presented in the report through the end of 2020 and the COVID-19 dashboard is current through July 31, 2021.

Explore the report and dashboards at lacontroller.org/lafd-overtime-oversight.

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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