ABC6 EXCLUSIVE: “It’s wage theft.”: R.I. Department of Health employee claims many unpaid overtime
"We worked so hard for the people of Rhode Island and then for the state not to recognize that and appreciate that, it's terrible."
PROVIDENCE, RI (WLNE) –
In an exclusive interview with ABC6 News, a staff member who wishes to remain anonymous says they are personally owed nearly 500 hours in overtime pay from the start of the pandemic they’ll probably never see due to a Department of Administration policy-and they’re not alone.
“It was, ‘We need to protect the people of Rhode Island’. This is the job we signed up to do, and we’re going to do the job. But things, especially in the beginning, the numbers really just spiraled out of control. But we kept going because it was necessary; it was important.”
Documents from the Department of Administration detailed a compensatory policy meant to make up for thousands of hours in overtime worked by non-union Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) staff members through the pandemic told employees: “Unlike hourly-paid Fair Labor Standards Act non-exempt employees, FLSA exempt employees are accountable for their performance outcomes rather than for the number of hours or days worked and are not eligible for overtime pay. In recognition of the extraordinary time, effort and additional work hours well beyond the employees’ regular work schedule expected of many FLSA exempt (non-standard) employees as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, the purpose of this policy is to provide for compensatory time for FLSA exempt employees along with guidelines under which the compensatory time will be authorized.”
“I’ve worked approximately 670 hours from the deferred time off, that’s going to be on those 10 hours per week, I’ve worked about 500 hours unpaid,” claims the employee, noting that the pandemic is still ongoing and it’s not uncommon for them to work a typical 9 hour day. “All of the other deferred time off we have to use by June 2027. The other 670 hours I’ve logged in are at this time, ‘too bad, you’ve lost it’.”
ABC6 News reached out to the Rhode Island Department of Health for comment, and received a statement from the Department of Administration:
“The State recognized the efforts of employees who are not entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act by granting compensatory time for the period of January 31, 2020 through June 30, 2021.” That policy was clarified as a “payout of up to a maximum of 70 hours for employees in a 35-hour standard work week and 80 hours for employees in a 40-hour standard work week.”
The employee says while they know other staff members are allegedly owed thousands of hours in overtime and describes overworked employees as ‘disgruntled’, staff at the RIDOH continue to work unpaid overtime. “We care more about protecting the people of Rhode Island than the hours we were working. And we never thought that this pandemic would go on for two years. Yes, we put these expectations on ourselves, ’cause that’s the job we signed up for, but we also feel a really strong moral imperative to do the job; to do the work that we do. So yes, anybody could have quit at any time, chosen to quit and get out, but that’s just not the type of people that work at RIDOH.”
Over the past two weeks, both Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Deputy Director Thomas McCarthy have stepped down.
“The state got in billions of dollars from the Feds for the COVID response, and the state can’t afford to pay us for the hours worked? It doesn’t make any sense,” says the employee. “It’s insulting, it’s disingenuous, it’s disrespectful, it’s shameful. It’s wage theft. We worked so hard for the people of Rhode Island and then for the state not to recognize that and appreciate that, it’s terrible.”