FLSA Settlement Update Covering ACF Head Start Program Specialists

Clock on a pile of money

Although our chapter only represents FDA, I share this representational information because of ongoing concerns on this subject in our chapter.

As you know, NTEU and HHS reached a settlement agreement on January 16, 2015, under which Head Start Program Specialists were to be reclassified as covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the law governing overtime compensation in the federal sector. Under the settlement, eligible Head Start employees will receive back pay going back several years for improperly compensated overtime plus liquidated damages.

Although Head Start employees were reclassified last year, there has been a series of problems with implementation of the January 2015 settlement. The delays were due, in significant part, to mistakes that HHS has made as well as to HHS receiving incomplete overtime data from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). As of today, HHS informed NTEU that it still does not have all the information it needs from DFAS to process complete back pay payments to Head Start employees.

NTEU strongly believes that affected Head Start Program Specialists should not have to wait any longer for back pay payments to which they are entitled under the settlement. NTEU thus filed a motion with the arbitrator assigned to the parties’ FLSA grievance, seeking an order requiring HHS to:

  1. Prepare statements showing how much back pay each affected Head Start Program Specialist is owed based on the data HHS has received so far and 
  2. Pay the covered employees what they are owed based on the data HHS has received. 

 HHS initially objected to NTEU’s proposal but, at the arbitrator’s urging, the agency has now agreed to issue interim statements and back pay payments to eligible employees. Once HHS receives the missing data from DFAS, it will issue supplemental statements and payments to employees, as warranted.

Statements have started going out to current employees via e-mail. Former employees will receive their statements via U.S. mail. Detailed information about how, and when, employees should expect their back pay payments as well as liquidated damages will be provided in a joint HHS-NTEU memo that will accompany the statements.

It is important to note that the initial statements will be based on incomplete data. Specifically, they will be missing credit hours that covered employees may have earned over the last several years. HHS does not have the credit hours data yet. Employees who have concerns about the missing credit hours data, or who otherwise feel these initial statements are inaccurate, do not have to file a claim now. Covered employees must wait until they receive the second (supplemental) statement before filing any claim challenging the agency’s calculations. The second statement will likely take several more months to prepare and distribute. Once employees receive that second statement, they will then have thirty (30) days to file a claim, if necessary. Although covered employees do not have to worry about filing any claim right now, if they have documentation that they think might eventually assist in demonstrating their right to compensation for overtime hours worked, they should collect and keep such documentation now.

Chapter presidents will separately be receiving soon a spreadsheet with the names of Head Start Program Specialists covered by the settlement with the amount of back pay they are expected to receive shortly. The employees will also receive a matching amount of liquidated damages. To reiterate, these are interim payments, and many employees will receive an additional payment at a later time. This spreadsheet should be kept confidential and not distributed. However, it may be useful to chapter presidents in responding to questions.

It is welcome news that affected Head Start Program Specialists who received improperly compensated overtime will finally be receiving some relief — relief that comes as a direct result of NTEU’s work and perseverance.

Please contact your NTEU Chapter Representative if you have any questions.