Returning from chemo, state worker has gone months without accurate pay

This article was updated July 23 at 11:09 a.m. with more information about a state audit of payroll issues.

Judy Stanley hasn’t been sleeping well.

The 61-year-old quality assurance specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services returned in February from leave for cancer treatment and has yet to receive an accurate paycheck from the state.

Stanley said taking time off to undergo chemotherapy and radiation already stressed her finances as she went without pay for months and had to sell her car and take out a loan to pay her bills.

Now, she said she’s still fighting for a clear accounting of her pay after errors were caused by the state’s switch to a new payroll system in December.

She’s one of thousands of state employees impacted by errors in Workday, the new system used for paying 45,000 people, many of whom live in the Salem area.

Despite assurances from the Department of Administrative Services in May that systemic issues have been corrected, Stanley and other workers are still waiting for an accurate accounting of their pay and corrections to errors that have compounded over time.

Four monthly checks have at turns overpaid and underpaid the Salem woman, belatedly crediting donated medical leave, then clawing back excess hours paid without a clear accounting or adjustments to her taxes. One check paid her nothing, saying she owed the state more than $1,400.

Her bills haven’t changed much since her cancer diagnosis, she said. “It’s just the stress and anxiety of whether I’m going to get enough to pay them.”

Though the issue has faded from the spotlight as fewer employees have been impacted in May and June, errors are still preventing people from getting accurate pay stubs, and workers like Stanley who have seen multiple errors compound say they’re no closer to resolution.

“I don’t have any confidence in them correcting anything at this point,” Stanley said.

State tight-lipped

Andrea Chiapella, a spokeswoman for the department which oversees the state’s payroll system, declined to answer specific questions from Salem Reporter about the severity of the ongoing payroll issues or the state’s plan for correcting them, citing ongoing litigation over inaccurate pay.

She refused to say how many workers received inaccurate paychecks during the most recent pay issued June 1 and why testing prior to rolling out the Workday system failed to uncover the scale of the problems.

“We take any report of payroll issues seriously and are committed to working with payroll partners across the enterprise of state government to ensure that if there are errors, employees are made whole as soon as possible,” Chiapella said in an email. “DAS is actively and openly communicating with state employees and with labor, human resources, and payroll partners about issues related to the new payroll system.”

Bryanna Duke, the agency’s public records manager, told Salem Reporter DAS has hired an accounting firm to audit payroll and their work is currently underway. She said the agency doesn’t have an estimated completion date for the audit.

A Workday spokeswoman also declined to answer specific questions from Salem Reporter about how Oregon’s system was tested prior to rollout and whether the Pleasanton, California-based company had been involved in correcting issues. 

State workers march in front of the state Capitol on Thursday, June 8, 2023. More than 1,000 people attended the event, organized by the Service Employees International Union 503, to urge action on better pay for workers. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

SEIU 503, the union representing many state employees, has filed six grievances with the state over ongoing payroll issues. State employees twice have sued the state over the matter.

Pati Urias, union spokeswoman, said the union is helping members when they reach out and pushing for systemic corrections to make employees whole. While DAS is reporting fewer workers affected, Urias said lingering issues like those affecting Stanley need to be corrected –including an accounting of taxes withheld.

“The state needs to take this just as seriously as if there are 2,000 people,” Urias said.

She said resolving the issues also means an audit to ensure taxes have been withheld properly. Many state workers who spoke at an April 18 legislative hearing said they believed they’d been taxed too much or too little because the state didn’t adjust withholdings when correcting their pay.

“The state direly needs to audit all payrolls and make sure that people have been paid and taxed appropriately. We are not confident they have and the longer they wait to take the steps the more complicated it will be to untangle,” Urias said in an email.

Since January, workers have filed 57 wage claims against state agencies through Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries — more than double the number in the six months before the Workday rollout, according to data provided to Salem Reporter. Rachel Mann, BOLI spokeswoman, said those claims are not necessarily related to Workday issues. 

Andrea Haywood, a Salem resident who works as an operations and policy analyst for the state Department of Revenue, is also awaiting resolution to pay issues. 

Her January check overpaid her December overtime by a few hours, but in February, the state deducted all of that overtime pay from her check.

Haywood said by her calculations, the state still owes her about $1,000. She’s been unable to get a response from either the union or payroll to get the error corrected, she said.

“I am lucky to be part of a two-income household so we could pay our bills,” she said in an email. “However we are paying interest on items we had no intention of needing to. I can’t get anyone to listen or take any time to even evaluate what has happened. I now email them weekly with no reply.”

An odyssey to get paid

Stanley’s first paycheck after returning from cancer treatment was issued March 1. Because of ongoing fatigue caused by her cancer treatment, she works part time under a medical accommodation.

New to the Workday system, Stanley and her supervisor entered the hours she worked correctly, but failed to enter her hours for leave without pay –  something she said she didn’t realize she needed to do.

Even though she’d entered only part time hours, the state overpaid her as if she’d worked full time. She concedes she made a mistake in entry, but said that small mistake set off a cascade of problems that have yet to be resolved.

The following month, Stanley entered her time correctly for the part-time hours she’d worked. The state overpaid her again for her March hours, while deducting hours for her February overpayment. 

But Stanley said the numbers on her paystub didn’t match the hours she actually worked, and she never got an accounting of how the Workday system calculated what she owed or a corrected paystub.

Her April paystub was intended to recover March’s overpayment, but Stanley said again she didn’t get a clear accounting of what was taken out and why. The check said she owed the state $1,400 and paid her nothing. 

Stanley did her own math and said she believes she was shorted about $430. Her pay for May shorted the number of hours she worked as well.

“You’re relying on a system that screwed it up in the first place to fix it and the system’s not fixing it,” she said. “My calculator gives one total and the system in Workday gives a totally different total.”

Since her cancer treatment, she relies on disability insurance to cover the difference between the hours she can work and a full-time paycheck. So far, she said, the insurer has believed her about the state’s payroll errors, but she lives in fear of a state accounting error costing her disability payments she needs to cover her bills.

Her paychecks have had other irregularities too, she said, adding to the confusion. 

She’s accrued no sick leave or vacation time since returning from treatment, her paystubs show, though she should be earning some hours every pay period.

When she’s had pay deducted for previous overpayment, her taxes haven’t been adjusted accordingly, making her fear she’ll have a large and inaccurate tax bill come next spring.

“Basically, you’re forcing me to pay taxes on money I didn’t make and you’re reporting earnings to the IRS that I didn’t get,” she said.

One check recorded a negative amount of federal taxes, she said, but the refund amount listed on her paystub wasn’t paid to her.

Stanley estimated she’s spent 150 hours on the payroll issues, waiting weeks to get a response from the state payroll worker who processes her team’s paychecks.

“It can take up to a month for her to answer an email,” Stanley said.

Sitting in her home office, she pours over paystubs and spreadsheets she made trying to make sense of the state’s math on her pay stubs. One folder she created to track the issues has 23 documents. Stanley tried to enlist an accountant to help but said she couldn’t find anyone willing to take her case because it was too complex and too specific to state pay codes.

The union has been little help, she said. She said the union seems focused on issues affecting larger groups of workers.

All she wants is to know how much she owes the state or the state owes her, and an audit to ensure her hours and taxes have been calculated correctly.

“I don’t know that they’re ever going to and that bothers me a lot,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.