The federal probe on the Commonwealth's public hospital by the U.S. Department of Labor has resulted in the discovery of several violations and an order for the payment of back wages, which affected employees are already starting to receive.
Deanne Amaden, U.S. Department of Labor regional director for public affairs, confirmed with Saipan Tribune that a total of 101 hospital employees were found to have not been paid properly for services rendered between January 2010 and January 2012. The federal agency ordered the payment of back wages amounting to $105,366.66.
Amaden disclosed that many of these affected employees are nurses who work beyond their scheduled shifts.
“The investigation had determined that employees were not paid at least the half-time premium (time and one half the regular rate) when they worked in excess of 40 hours per week. The issues that led to this are that nursing employees often worked beyond their scheduled shift but were not paid for that time. The uncompensated time was usually for work such as charting patient care and transferring information to the incoming shift,” said Amaden.
It was also found that some employees were not paid for mandatory monthly unit staff meetings and required annual refresher training courses. Employees also had 30-minute meal breaks deducted from their hours even when those breaks were interrupted, Amaden said.
According to the federal official, the Commonwealth Health Corp. has agreed to “take specific steps and corrective measures to come into compliance immediately and going forward.”
The corporation has promised to pay the back wages on an installment basis until every single cent is settled.
“The Wage and Hour Division worked with CHC to arrange for an installment plan [that] will allow CHC to catch up on the back wages while meeting existing payroll obligations, including addressing record keeping requirements,” said Amaden.
She pointed out that accurately counting and paying for all hours worked is essential to complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act. She said it's important that all employers, in the public as well as the private sector, recognize that employees must be paid for all hours actually worked, regardless of their planned shift schedule.
“The department is satisfied that the necessary steps will be taken to avoid violations in the future,” she said.
The case is now considered closed.
The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigated the hospital in February this year after it received complaints that employees were not getting their salaries on time, including the nonpayment of personnel allotments such as insurance and retirement contributions.
As a result of the agreement between U.S. Labor and the health corporation and for immediately taking corrective action on the issue, U.S. Labor will not be filing any complaint against the corporation.
“We consider this matter resolved with only the remaining installment payments pending and the ongoing distribution of back wage payments,” said Amaden.
Saipan Tribune tried to obtain comments from corporation CEO Juan N. Babauta, but no statement has been released since Tuesday last week.
In a visit to the hospital, many employees, who agreed to speak on the condition that they not be named, confirmed receipt of their back wages.
The first batch of affected employees was provided their back wages during last week's payroll. The amount varies from $100 to over $3,000, depending on employee's unpaid service hours.
Saipan Tribune learned that next batch of back wages is expected to be released next month.
“This only shows that the corporation, despite its ongoing challenges and uncertainties, is committed to do the right thing for the employees. I am grateful to the U.S. Department of Labor for taking the immediate action for us. This is really a morale-booster for employees,” a nurse who has been serving CHC for seven years told Saipan Tribune.
Another hospital employee for 19 years shared that, although receiving more than $1,000 is unexpected, it will help address some of the family's unpaid obligations.
Hospital employees who were hired from outside the Commonwealth are still waiting for their housing allowance, which has been delayed for seven months now-from March to September.