Governor implores cabinet heads to get employees sick and annual leave under control
American Samoa Government employees can only accrue up to 480 hours of annual leave, or 60 days a year — and that’s in the local statute, says Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale. The AG was responding to Samoa News questions upon learning the AG has issued a legal opinion on this matter.
The AG, however, did not wish to release a copy of his legal opinion noting that it's “confidential”.
The issue on leave was discussed during the cabinet meeting last week, where Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga told his Directors they are to take every step to review all existing annual leave, sick leave and compensatory time and come up with an appropriate strategy to reduce all accrued leave, while at the same time complying with the existing laws. He also warned that all excess annual leave, sick or compensatory time will not be carried beyond October 1, 2014.
According to Talauega, the law is clear, that any ASG employee can accrue up to 480 hours a year — or 60 days — and anything over that will not be carried forward. “That means that at the end of the year, you're back to 480, you can’t go over it and you can’t accumulate over 480 hours annual leave. For sick leave you can only accrue if you have 240 hours and above, meaning that if you have 239 accrued sick leave hours, you are not entitled to that leave.
He further stated that annual leave caps at 480 or 60 days, while for sick leave there is no cap, you can accrue as much as you can. However if you leave ASG, you only get paid 239 hours of sick leave. “The law says you're entitled to sick leave.”
In the meantime, Governor Lolo from Hawai’i sent a letter to all his Directors last week reminding them of the noted escalation in the amount of liability connected with accumulated annual and sick leave beyond the allowable amounts prescribed by the American Samoa Code Annotated.
Lolo stated that given the significant financial impact of accumulated sick and annual leave beyond allowable levels, “you are again being asked to please take time to review sick leave accumulation, by all employees in your department and agency.
“Employees with leave in excess of the legal limits should be given time off to bring these hours down appropriately.”
The governor pointed out that each Director will provide for his review the sick and annual review status of his or her department, and the proposed actions they intend to adopt to reduce said leave to legal limits. “It is crucial that you dedicate time to review this aspect of your operation because it has significant impact on the overall financial status of your department or agency,” said governor Lolo.
The issue on overtime has surfaced again as it was also mentioned in this same correspondence to the Directors, wherein the governor said “it's my hope that our overtime challenge has been effectively addressed" since his administration "allowed the employment of additional staff to cause the elimination of overtime.”
Lolo further stated that he will be requesting a financial report from the Director of Human Resources and the Treasurer on overtime which has been paid since the beginning of this year by each department.
Earlier this month HR Director sent a letter to Directors and Agency Heads as a courtesy reminder to ‘refrain from issuing straight time overtime for non-exempt employees at the rate of 1:1 for hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week. According to Thompson, the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act provides that non-exempt employees shall be compensated at a rate not less than one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.
Thompson gave an example, “John Doe is an Administrative Assistant who works 55 hours during the workweek, the employee has had 40 hours of regular time (sometimes called straight-time) and 15 hours of overtime to be paid at a rate of 1 1/2. We strongly advise against agencies issuing overtime to nonexempt employees at a rate of 1:1 or hour for hour.”
Thompson stated “our collective failure to enforce these laws exposes ASG’s liability for FLSA violations which may include back wages, liquidated damages equal to the amount of back wages owed, interest and attorney fees.”
The HR Director thanked the Directors for their continuous support and cooperation in ensuring the wage and hour provisions are enforced and strictly adhered to in accordance with established rules and regulations. Thompson further urged directors that if there is any training needed in the areas of personnel management and record time keeping, to contact HR to have these matters taken care of.