Temporary Employees: Gaps in Monitoring Left Some Benefits Unpaid
December 13, 2022
King County agencies owe payments in lieu of benefits to temporary employees who meet certain criteria, but agencies did not pay more than one-third of employees eligible in 2020, in violation of county code. After the Department of Human Resources (DHR) conducted an annual review to find missed payments, 34 confirmed and likely eligible employees still had not received “back-benefits,” which had a median value of $5,800 per person. Incomplete recordkeeping, a lack of verification, and unreliable data tools contributed to these outcomes. We recommend that DHR ensure all eligible employees receive correct payments by keeping complete records, improving data reliability, and proactively informing employees about eligibility.
Watch the presentation (6:09)
Temporary employment can offer flexible and mutually beneficial opportunities to employees and county agencies. However, overreliance on temporary employees can create compliance issues and affect performance and morale. For example, STT employees do not typically receive benefits, but they may become eligible for pay in lieu of benefits during employment. As a result, DHR annually reviews the County's use of temporary employees, including checking for back-benefits eligibility. King County created term-limited temporary posts in the late 1990s, after a $24 million settlement related to unpaid benefits.
King County agencies did not pay more than one-third of employees eligible for back-benefits in 2020. Nonpayment affects employees financially and may increase the County’s risk of legal liability. The Department of Human Resources (DHR) does an annual review to find eligible employees and process agency-approved payments. For DHR’s 2021 review, we checked whether payments took place and if they were in the correct amounts. We found that only 41 of between 61 and 75 employees eligible in 2020 received payments. In terms of accuracy, we found a 16 percent error rate, resulting in 15 of 95 employees being under- or overpaid from 2020 to September 2022. Since only about 3 percent of short-term temporary (STT) employees earn back-benefits, the County has placed limited attention on the process in recent years. Incomplete recordkeeping, a lack of payment verification, unreliable tools, and gaps in training contributed to inaccurate payments. In addition, delays of annual oversight meetings and after-the-fact notifications to employees reduced accountability. The annual review for eligible employees has been in place since 1999 but has not kept in step with organizational and technical changes over the last 10 years.
We recommend that the DHR take steps to ensure that all eligible employees receive correct back-benefits payments. We also recommend that DHR keep clear eligibility and payment records to improve transparency and accountability. In partnership with the Business Resource Center, DHR should also improve data reliability for its annual review of temporary employees. Earlier review timelines, better training tools, and employee notifications would also increase efficiency and effectiveness of the process.
Megan Ko and Ben Thompson worked on this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email at KCAO@kingcounty.gov.