Since the beginning of this semester, delays in paycheck distribution have been affecting hundreds of student employees campus-wide. Few are aware of why they have been missing paychecks, but many have had problems, ranging from dissatisfaction to financial difficulties.
Amanda Keating, a USF senior who is employed in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, was one of the students impacted by the delays.
Before starting a new semester of employment, she and all other student workers were supposed to have been emailed an employment number, so that her supervisor could fill out an ePAF (a form stating that the student is in the supervisor’s employment). Keating never received this email.
Because of this, Keating’s ePAF ended up being approved and turned in a day late, and she was not paid for the first pay period in September. Keating was surprised, but decided to let it go and wait for her next payday. The second pay period came and went, and nothing changed, all due to the fact that her supervisor had submitted her ePAF late.
“It’s unfair,” Keating said. “If your supervisor does one thing wrong, or turns the ePAF in one day late, then you, the employee, do not get paid on time. The supervisor does the ePAF wrong, they get paid on time, but you don’t. Even if your timesheet’s in on time, even if you work the hours, you don’t get paid.”
Other students have had similar problems.
A sophomore working at USF, who asked to remain anonymous, said that everyone in his workplace had his or her pay date postponed. While this did not have a significant impact on him specifically, it did create hardship for other students.
“It didn’t cause many problems for me, but it was obviously annoying,” he said. “For a lot of my friends who have to actually pay rent to live, though, it was a little more than annoying.”
For this student, the situation was resolved simply: he and his coworkers were told they would receive all that they had earned in their next paycheck, and the university fulfilled that promise. Also, he said, “We were given the opportunity to request immediate pay, and one or more students in the department took that offer.”
Keating, too, was eventually paid; however, for her the solution was not so easy. She submitted a pay advance form, which allows students in immediate financial need to be paid outside the regular payment schedule and states that check requests will be processed within 48 hours of receipt. Even after this, she received no word from Human Resources.
According to section 204 of California labor code, if a worker has not received his or her salary at the correct payday, the employer has 10 days in which to pay the employee. Eleven days passed before Keating, realizing that her rights had been violated, went to the Human Resources department on Sept. 26 to find out what had gone wrong.
Her reception, she said, was less than welcoming.
“Every time I tried to get paid for the whole month of September, every single person greeted me with hostility. If people had just been nice and understanding and apologetic to me, then maybe I wouldn’t have pushed it so hard,” Keating said, “but the University of San Francisco treated me like a criminal for trying to get the paycheck that I was perfectly allowed to have.”
Keating was told that it was impossible for her to receive her paycheck then. It was at this point that she threatened to file a report and sue the university. She was finally paid soon afterwards.
Keating is still not satisfied with the university’s actions.
“While I was paid,” she said, “I had to threaten legal action, and the hundreds of other students whom the law was broken for were not paid. So just because I happen to be lucky enough to know the law doesn’t mean I should be the only one who gets paid.” She added that she knows of students who haven’t received a paycheck in three pay periods.
What is the cause of these troublesome pay delays? According to Marci Nunez, Assistant Director of Student Leadership and Engagement, there is no single cause.
Nunez supervises and approves the timesheets of all the students in her department. Her take on the payroll problems is that a majority resulted from the university’s transition between systems for processing student data.
Before the new Banner information system was implemented, Nunez said, the university was using software that was at least 20 years old, and involved having separate systems for student information and financial and budget information.
“It was pretty archaic,” she said.
With the new software, the information from these separate systems is now integrated into one network. One problem with this, said Nunez, is just the fact that the system is new and unfamiliar. “As with implementing any new software, you have a number of issues that come up about teaching everybody how to use it, and working on any bugs and things like that,” she said.
Also, she said, the e-timesheet system has also been integrated with the Banner system, a process which has made the timesheet-approval procedure easier but the deadlines much stricter. If a student’s timesheet is not submitted on the due date and the supervisor does not approve it by noon the next day, the timesheet will not be processed, and the employee may not receive his or her paycheck.
“It’s worked for students who have gotten into the habit where you in your hours every day, and then save it, and then at the end of your last shift, you save it and submit it to your supervisor,” Nunez said. “That’s how it should be, you should be into that practice.”
However, she believes that many students have not made this into a regular habit.
“We came from a culture where we used to have a couple of days’ leeway, and we’d kind of wait and turn it in late and still get paid on time,” Nunez said. Now, this is not the case, and students have been having trouble adjusting to the new, shorter turnaround time.
Keating was doubtful of this explanation, saying that to her knowledge, “Students are on top of things. They want to get paid. We have to pay for school and stuff.”
In Keating’s case, that statement holds true: she was on top of her situation, and had submitted all of her paperwork on time without a hitch.
“I work hard, I come to work on time, I do my job,” she said. “If I did something late, I’d get fired.” However, she added, “If HR does it late, they could just get away with it because we’re just students.”
Nunez agreed that there are a number of other flaws with the system that have nothing to do with students. “They’re still trying to work out, for example, paycheck location and things like that,” she said. “And of course for us supervisors it’s a lot more difficult to have a short window of time to approve of all your student timesheets.”
Keating’s main criticism of the payroll system is that it is often inefficient. “When I called George Chin and asked him to cut my check, he told me he had no time to. And the issue is that when my paycheck is being illegally held from me, I don’t care if he doesn’t get to go home at five o’clock. That just means he needs to work overtime to make sure I get paid. It’s not my mistake, it’s HR’s mistake,” she said.
To improve the system, Keating suggested “letting students have direct power over their own paychecks. It should be that if you turn in your timesheet on time, you get paid on time. There should not be any of these middleman issues that we have no power over.”
Nunez felt instead that the people at Human Resources are doing as well they can under the circumstances. “They’re trying to accommodate requests particularly from students,” she said, “And I know that they’ve been working really hard to get everybody through. The university has always been committed to the idea that if you work, you are going to be paid.”
Despite repeated attempts to conduct an interview by email, by telephone, and in person, no one in the Human Resources Department was available for comment.
For students, Nunez has the following advice: “They need to be responsible for the new deadlines. And that’s just a matter of being really conscientious about the deadline for the timesheet and turning it in.”
And if students have a specific reason beyond their control for not being able to turn in the timesheet, or their supervisor fails to approve it on time, and they have extreme need to get that paycheck on the payday, said Nunez, “they should work with their supervisors. Student Employment is also a good source of info for students if they have a hard time accessing their direct supervisor.”
Even if the payroll process itself were to remain unchanged, Keating said she thought that students would have an easier time dealing with Human Resources “If people could just be kinder, more accommodating, and not turn us away just because they think we’re starting trouble,” she said. From her experience, students aren’t trying to pick fights or create controversy. “We just need to get paid so we can buy groceries.”