How SFPUC’s Payroll Team Helps Employees Feel More “Normal”

COVID-19 has paused the world for many people. Milestones, celebrations, education, and work have all become a bit different these last few months. Through it all, there are individuals at the SFPUC who have tried to make it more “normal” for their colleagues.

The SFPUC’s Payroll Team has supported COVID-19 response by making sure the agency has updated information and understanding what it is that is being implemented to support employees. “It is important to make sure we know all the details so that employees are paid accurately and also for efficiency,” said Theresa Lang, SFPUC Payroll Supervisor. “The difference between our normal duties and this is the complexity of the pay for the added benefits. There is a lot of information needed in order to pay the employee properly.”

For Lang, some of biggest challenges has been learning the City’s updated payroll guidelines in a short amount of time and getting the right information from the employees. Another issue was making sure the COVID-19 funding was charged correctly. “With 2300 employees and anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 entries that need to be checked within 14 hours of our deadline can increase stress exponentially,” she said. “But, I believe it is important because employees rely in their pay no matter what.”

While the SFPUC’s Payroll Team duties are pretty routine in nature, their ability to work well under pressure with the rapid changes and added procedures of checks and balances has not gone unnoticed. Employees across the SFPUC have quickly come together with the Payroll Team to streamline efforts and help support their colleagues. “It may seem effortless, but behind the scenes there are tired eyes, brains, and hands that make this process every pay period,” said Lang. “This includes everyone from Payroll in HRS, to the division timekeepers, to PPSD. During this time their time and work goes in to overdrive and with very little complaints.”

Lang shared how her team’s mission has been to ensure employees are still able to receive their pay during this pandemic. “Because both the City and federal government has allotted certain funds for employees who are unable to pay, it is important for payroll to understand and process this information so that employees are able to still live and support their families.”

Kaimin (Kate) Xie, Payroll Specialist, has been helping SFPUC employees navigate through uncertainty by providing solutions to issues raised during the global pandemic. “In order for us to better assist with employees’ concerns regarding their pay based on different scenarios, we have gone through a lot of scenarios and discussion while studying new leave and payroll policies,” said Xie. She shared that her team not only advise on helping employees with their timekeeping reports, but also being an empathetic and understanding partner during this unexpected and challenging time. “It is important for us to understand the new procedures thoroughly, so that we can help interpret them to employees on a case by case basis properly and correctly in order to help ease some of their anxiety.”

For Xie, her role supporting SFPUC colleagues has not been too different from her responsibilities during normal times. “Especially when it comes down to helping employees to resolve their questions about how to get paid correctly and which compensation plan can be applied to different individuals while they are on leaves or if they are still reporting to work,” she shared.

Under the Bay Area’s health orders, people are required to wear face masks or covers when going out for essential activities, such as grocery shopping and picking up medication, and to keep at least six feet apart from other people. Xie mentioned that although the health orders help keep people healthy and safe, she does miss being able to socialize with others before the health crisis. She has felt encouraged by the shared responsibility throughout the SFPUC to support others through this challenging time. “I am impressed by the SFPUC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the agency is supporting employees. During this pandemic, it is effective and productive while everyone from different departments is put together to achieve a common goal,” she said.

The SFPUC Payroll Team.

Loi Ly, Payroll Specialist, has been assisting the Finance Team to ensure correct coding on employee time sheets for any COVID-19 related tasks. Ly shared that this is important because the SFPUC would need to record all COVID-19 response work in order to receive reimbursements from FEMA as the Mayor and Governor declared a state of emergency. Ly shared that during the last two months, new leaves and pay types were created and implemented to support employees and their varying situations. “This was challenging especially with the limited time to learn and understand them. Hopefully we will soon find a vaccine or an effective treatment for this virus,” said Ly.

“None of my family members or friends work on the front lines,” shared Ly. “But many of my colleagues at the SFPUC are considered essential workers. My job in payroll is essential to support them. Without payroll, our employees will not get paid. It’s critical that I check all time entered by our employees are correct and submitted in a timely manner to ensure they receive paycheck.”

Shing (Cari) Pi, SFPUC Payroll Specialist, shared how adapting to the new normal has been challenging, not just from learning new payroll policies, but also adjusting to a new way of life. Pi has learned to quickly absorb new payroll information and changes at a fast pace even if there is not a complete policy in place yet. She has also quickly adapted new disciplines on paying more attention to her surroundings, having better hygiene in workplace and daily life, and re-prioritizing her personal goals.

Pi’s stated for her, being in public service is now more important than ever, especially during emergencies and disasters. “We continue to provide services to people during the pandemic and keep people safe, such as police, fireman, and medical personnel,” she said. “It is vital for me to play an emergency response role, even in payroll, to ensure employees get paid correctly and on time.”

Wilson Yee, Payroll Specialist, he has been a shoulder for his colleagues as they have shared their concerns with him. “Employees are very concerned about their pay. So they in turn may be able to pay their bills, buy groceries, care for their family,” he said. Yee shared it has been challenging going through the various new pay options available, their terms, conditions, and to find which is applicable to each individual, but the Payroll Team has continued to seek answers to their colleagues’ questions.

For Yee, the pandemic has personally impacted his family. He has a sibling in the medical field working on the front lines. He said his sister is making sure to have enough personal protective equipment and being extra cautious around family members. Yee joking shared that it has been a treasure hunt trying to find toilet paper. However, he understands how important it is to shelter in place, remember social distancing while going out, and have patience when keeping children occupied and focused on their school work.

Although the Payroll Team is working from home right now, they continue to raise their hands to assist in whatever way is needed, which is the heart of public service.