WEST CHESTER — A glitch in the switch from one payroll system to another earlier this month left a good number of Chester County government employees scratching their heads.
"What happened to my paycheck? Why wasn’t it deposited in my account? That’s not as much money as I should have been paid. That’s more money than what I should have been paid."
What officials in the county Controller’s Office realized as paychecks began rolling out under the new system on July 2 is that the switch brought with it unanticipated “bumps in the road” that resulted in problems with paychecks for dozens of employees.
“As with any implementation of this magnitude and complexity, long-term gains seldom come without short-term pain,” said county Controller Margaret Reif in an email last week explaining what had happened with the outsourcing of the payroll system to Inova Payroll of Pennsylvania, a Lancaster County company. “While a significant level of the transition of the payroll system went smoothly for the county’s 2,500 employees, we did experience some challenges with departments that have complex pay structures.”
The glitch left some employees without their regularly scheduled paychecks; left others with smaller checks than they were due; and caused some to receive more pay than they were owed — all of which Reif said her office began working to correct as soon as the problems were identified.
“I remain committed to rolling up my sleeves and working alongside our team to see this project through, knowing that the benefits of the new payroll system will far outweigh the short-term challenges of implementation,” Reif said of the changeover.
“Everyone will be made whole,” she said in an interview last week. “Everything will be okay. We’ve just to get past this transition.”
The decision to move to a new outsourced way of computing payroll amounts and issuing checks began in early 2020 when it became clear that there would be personnel changes in the Controller’s Office — the department responsible for paying the county’s 2,600 or so employees and its thousands of outside vendors.
Reif said that the decision was made to seek an outside vendor for the payroll system rather than to continue to rely on the “in-house” system that had been in place. A significant factor in that decision, besides the anticipated staffing changes, was that an outside vendor would presumably guard against any interruption of service should county facilities be compromised by disasters — flooding, fires, tornadoes, etc.
“The old system required hundreds of hours of maintenance by employees in multiple departments,” Reif said. “So savings of tens of thousands of dollars in county employee indirect costs are realized by using an outsourced system. In addition, outsourcing the payroll system supports the county’s Continuity of Operations Plan.”
After vetting a number of firms that submitted proposals for a new payroll system, Inova was chosen, she said, at the same cost that had been expended by the old system, which ran on the Kronos software system. The contract was approved by the county commissioners in August 2020, and Inova began working to switch over by July 1.
But, “‘Going live’ with a significantly large and complex system such as payroll often brings with it some issues that are only flagged and corrected in real-time,” Reif said. Those issues began to appear as soon as the “on” button was pushed.
“As the payroll was being “synced” several of the pay codes used for individual employees were ‘turned off,’ ” leaving some — primarily those whose pay is calculated hourly with system check-ins rather than “salaried” employees who work set hours each day — not being paid correctly.
Reif said in her explanation that her office and Inova representatives “became aware of the fact that we had an issue right away and began taking corrective actions immediately. “It was not until a couple of days later that we fully understood the coding issues,” she said.
The controller sent a blanket e-mail to all county employees as soon as the problems arose, and laid out the issues that her office was having with the switch over. The office also opened up an “issue log” that allowed workers to let the office know what problems they had with their paychecks. Several additional e-mails were sent in the days afterward, including one update on Wednesday.
Reif said the glitches affected approximately 10 percent of the county workforce. She said that if an employee said they had been paid significantly less than what their normal salary would be, her office would issue a new check to cover the difference.
“We have been working on corrective actions, including fixing the codes since the first payroll,” she said. “I do believe we will be able to work through all of the challenges going forward.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.