Am. Samoa Negotiating Another Unpaid Overtime Settlement

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Dept. of Health employees subject of discussions with U.S. Labor Dept.

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 2, 2014) – It was revealed at the cabinet meeting yesterday that the United States Department of Labor and Department of Human Resources are at it again. They are negotiating another settlement payment, this time for employees of the Department of Health, says HR Director Sonny L Thompson. Thompson said that they are in the final stage of the negotiations and that Governor Lolo M. Moliga is supposed to sign off on the settlement this week.

It’s unclear how much the settlement will be, how many pay periods are involved and how many employees would be compensated for their overtime. The DHR director also pointed out that USDOL is right in the middle of their investigation into the overtime for the Department of Education.

The issue was highlighted by Thompson when he gave a slide show presentation during the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, Sept. 30, wherein he stressed the importance of Directors having full knowledge pertaining to overtime.

During his presentation, he noted that any work hours over 40 hours per work-week is considered "overtime", and explained that NON-EXEMPT employees are those who make less than $380 per week ($19,760), who do not have a supervisory role, meaning they do not make suggestions or recommendations in hiring, firing, advancement or promotion of employees within the Department.

However, exempt employees are those who make more than $380 per week ($19,760), supervise two or more employees and make recommendations as to the hiring, firing, and advancement or promotion of employees within the Department.

Other exempt employees are elected officials like the governor, lt. governor, or equivalent appointees, those who serve on a policy making level, district representatives, and Senators — with the exception of Legislative Research Bureau employees.

Thompson further stated that pre-approved overtime is required with every department.

During his presentation, he also pointed out that any work required of the employee or permitted by an employer must be compensated, including wait times, meal or rest periods and time on premises (engaged in work benefiting the organization).

He explained there are two authorized (15 minute) paid breaks and a meal which is 30 minutes. He also urged the directors to report all working hours to the Payroll Division.

Thompson also emphasized that the HR Director has primary responsibility for establishing and administering procedures for filling vacancies in compliance with appropriate federal and ASG rules. However, all employees and supervisors share responsibility for the successful operation of the system.

He explained that, in accordance with local statute, the official effective date of the recruitment and placement actions, as well as other personnel actions, is established by the office of Human Resources, except in the case of resignation, the date of which is established by the employee who is resigning. Effective dates are not made on a retroactive basis.

The DHR director stated that in no instance will a government official allow an employee to enter on duty unless he has been assured by the Director of Human Resources or a designated member of his staff that the appointment action has been approved. Violations expose ASG to employer liability and subject ASG to: payment of back wages, liquidated damages and attorney fees.

Thompson said ASG will carry the burden if the directors do not heed the regulations and follow the rules.

In addition, he said that Directors cannot transfer or move a permanent employee from one position to another in the same or another class between agencies. It requires the prior approval of the Director of Human Resources and in the case of the Judicial Branch, the Chief Justice.

He said existing positions without funding will be suspended without pay, until a funding source is secured through appropriation by the Legislature of American Samoa — if it is deemed that these positions are critical to the needs of the American Samoa Government.

The HR director said It would not be legal to use funds that were earmarked for other activities to meet these unbudgeted obligations.

"Existing contracts will continued until their expiration, at which time they will not be renewed. Change Orders or Contract Amendments will not be permitted unless thoroughly justified to the governor, highlighting benefits to be accrued resulting from the proposed change order or amendments.

"No new contracts will be rewarded without clear justification of the funding sources and availability of said funds is unrestricted," the DHR director emphasized.

Thompson added, "It is the policy of ASG to prohibit the use of Direct Payment Vouchers to pay employees of the government," and concluded, "Failure to adhere to these policy directives underscores our ability to ensure maximum accountability and transparency in the use of public funds."

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