HARAHAN, La. -- For the past two weeks, an investigator from the U.S. Department of Labor has been combing over payroll records at Harahan City Hall, and apparently has uncovered a serious problem in how the police department pays its officers.
Harahan Mayor Vinny Mosca confirmed that the ongoing probe by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has revealed a longtime pay policy that violates federal law.
The faulty policy could prove costly to the cash-strapped city.
“Someone contacted the Department of Labor and made a complaint and so now the Department of Labor is in here auditing our policy as to how we pay police officers,” Mosca said. “We have been shortchanging some of the officers, basically.”
According to Mosca, the investigation revealed that Harahan’s method of awarding compensatory time to officers violates federal law.
Instead of awarding time-and-a-half credit for the extra hours, Harahan was awarding its officers straight one-for-one time on hours they worked beyond their regular 80-hour two-week schedule.
The policy has been on the books in Harahan for years, adopted by city ordinance and incorporated into the police policy manual.
As a result, the city is not only being forced to change its rules, but it must issue back pay to most of its 32 police employees, Mosca said.
Federal law only requires the city to go back two years in correcting the paychecks, but the expense could be significant for a city facing budget problems. Mosca said the total may top $20,000, enough to force added caution on top of an already tight financial situation.
In a letter to all city employees sent by Mosca on Friday, he warned that the “city is experiencing financial difficulties.”
“The city is unable to hire new employees as of 1/15/14. Therefore, I am imposing a new hiring freeze as of 1/15/14,” Mosca wrote.
The comp time problem apparently went unnoticed until a former employee raised a red flag when he left the department and received his final paycheck. The employee calculated that he was shortchanged by 156 hours of pay.
Interim Police Chief Joseph Lorenzo, who took over in October, said he was blindsided by the claim.
“This complaint kind of hit us, hit me, out of the blue. But I know one thing, we’re going to do whatever we have to rectify the problem,” he said.
Lorenzo said he has been working hand-in-hand with the federal investigator to fix the problem.
“We’re going to submit all of the documents they’re requesting of us. We’re going to submit everything they need, plus. We’re going to give them civil service rules, whatever pay records they want, whatever departmental rules we have,” Lorenzo said.