Putting in the Extra Hours: The Spike in Mass. Department of Public Health Overtime Pay during COVID-19

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During the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) payroll data presented a 29.09% increase in the average employee’s overtime pay from the previous year.  Pioneer wanted to dig deeper into the Department’s compensation trends to put the $5M bump in 2020 DPH overtime pay into perspective.

Looking at information compiled into Pioneer’s government transparency data bank MassOpenBooks, DPH OT jumped by 26.22%, increasing from $14.3 to $19.4M between 2019 and 2020.  Across all departments, state employees’ overtime pay only increased by 7.39% while DPH base pay increased by 4.62%.  In addition to extra hours compensation, DPH’s base pay bump was higher than in recent years when it increased by 3.07% in both 2018 and 2019 – perhaps in response to the new pandemic workload.

Below, Figure 1 details the data behind base, overtime, average overtime, and total pay in DPH between 2016 and 2020 taking into account respective annual changes.

Figure 1: Massachusetts Department of Public Health Employee Payroll Trends, 2016-2020

Source: MassOpenBooks State Payroll Data

But what is the root cause of this 2020 spike, especially when compared to the lower change in average state-wide overtime?  This year, understandably, DPH allocated a significant amount of resources in response to COVID-19, when employees took on the task of informing the public about the disease, compiling and releasing case and testing data, and coordinating the vaccination effort.  In addition to these and normal operations tasks, employees across DPH’s eighteen bureaus and offices also took on a new oversight role in supporting county and municipal health departments in their local fights against COVID.

Here, Figure 2 compares the steady annual increases in total base pay to the spike in total overtime pay side-by-side for a better frame of reference:

Figure 2: Massachusetts Department of Public Health Employee Payroll Trends, 2016-2020

Source: MassOpenBooks State Payroll Data

The Department of Public Health’s increase in overtime pay is not as severe as the chart above may suggest, as OT amounted to 7.57% of total payroll in 2020 – up from 6.04% in 2019 and 5.87% in 2018.  One important metric is the number of employees making significant overtime, where 236 of DPH’s 3,434 staff members made at least $25,000 in extra hours – up from 170 in 2019 and 156 in 2018.  In each year, those employees receiving over $25,000 made up just over half of the total overtime payroll.  Apart from how many employees are making OT, there is another influential outlier explaining the change in mean overtime payment by 29.09% in 2020: five staff members who made OT ranging between $100,234 and $127,563 each.  These employees include four Tier II RNs whose overtime pay exceeds base pay by 36%, 22%, 4%, and -8%, respectively; and one Epidemiologist who was paid 18% more in OT than base pay at a Tier II level, then promoted to Tier III where that statistic was 15%.

Of DPH’s 3,434 employees in 2020, 32 earned more than $200,000 including five earning more than $300,000. Between the increase in overtime earners and existing top salaries, average total pay at DPH increased from $62,437 in 2019 to $70,244 in 2020.

Jack Landsiedel is a Roger Perry Government Transparency Intern at the Pioneer Institute for Summer 2021.  He is a rising junior at the University of Maryland, College Park with a major in Government & Politics and minors in Public Leadership and Sustainability Studies.