As many of you may know, SEA President Diana Lacey has been participating in regular meetings with the State to discuss difficulties workers are experiencing with the new computer system, NH FIRST. Since the launch of the personnel / payroll components in early 2013, hundreds of you have reported one error or more in the calculation of your pay or leave benefits. We know now that the system is not able to completely handle our complex business model, primarily due to the fact that we do not fit into a neat box of computer programming. State employees have a variety of leave benefits and pay provisions that appear to be too difficult for the new computer system to manage.
In order to customize the system, to the least extent possible, the State made some difficult choices. When it came to leave balances and accruals, NH FIRST contains a sort of “real-time” functionality and a retrospective functionality, as well, to align the accruals and usages with the pay period being processed. It is important to note, however, that your contractual rights regarding accruing and using leave have not changed; the State knows this and points out that the computer system is merely a tool of automated tracking. If discrepancies are found, the State will move to correct the situation – many of which are addressed faster and before employee pay is actually impacted.
In the initial months of the system going live, the State configured NH FIRST so that workers that had low leave balances would not experience insufficient leave conflicts. That approach, unfortunately, left workers with large leave balances sometimes finding that a portion of their leave had lapsed in error. This method of handling leave accruals and usage essentially helped to protect the minority of workers that have low leave balances, and yet simultaneously may have hurt the majority of workers that have high leave balances and have to worry about lapsing unused leave.
In simpler terms, the crux of the problem is what you can and cannot see in NH FIRST when you are checking your leave balances, accruals and usage and you are deciding whether you should use leave. It is a problem that Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon informally dubbed the 80/20 percent solution. Because so many people have experienced problems with accurate leave balances and lapsed time, versus the number that have experienced problems with insufficient leave issues – which can cause employees to lose wages, Commissioner Hodgdon instructed the NH FIRST project team to reverse the situation. The change has the effect of NH FIRST not “seeing” (or experiencing) the accrual of leave in “real time” and instead has leave accrue in the pay period in which the leave was supposed to accrue – meaning you can’t see the leave accrue until that particular pay period is processing through the system. This change is also consistent with how the old system, GHRS, tracked leave.
The change should reduce the number of manual corrections that need to be made to employee leave balances but also carries its own set of kinks. Workers that want to see that leave accrue so that they can use it in real time will not be able to. This is part of the reason why some state agencies have suggested that employees separately track their leave accruals, usage and balances as an extra precaution.
The bottom line is that the NH FIRST system cannot handle Executive Branch leave and accruals exactly the way state employees would like. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that NH FIRST is only a software program and it does not eliminate your leave rights under your SEA/SONH Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is merely a tool trying to accurately capture the delivery and usage of your leave benefits. Workers who are in need of leave that you know you have accrued but that you cannot see in the system should bring that to the attention of your supervisor to get an initial approval while you await NH FIRST’s catching up with your accrued leave.
Should you believe that your contractual rights have been violated, please see your steward. We are continuing to meet with the State regarding NH FIRST and hope to be able to provide periodic updates as to how this work is progressing. The number of reported problems are down significantly and several improvements have already been made. The two-way dialogue that hearing from members has yielded was very helpful in making these improvements a reality.