B-240393, Jan 31, 1991

B-240393: Jan 31, 1991

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Hale was promoted from a grade GS-5. She was furnished an SF- 50 (Notification of Personnel Action) reflecting her proper annual salary. Hale was paid for one pay period using the correct new rate of $760. Hale was paid using the erroneous biweekly rate of $820. Hale states that she requested the accounting office to verify her salary and that she was told that her salary was correct and that the second increase reflected the allowance awarded to Washington. This fact is not disputed by the agency. /2/ She also states that her earnings and leave statements showed her correct grade GS-6. She should have continued to pursue the matter with the civilian personnel office. Provided there is no indication of fraud.

B-240393, Jan 31, 1991

DIGEST: NO PRECIS UNAVAILABLE:

Linda L. Hale:

Ms. Linda L. Hale, a civilian Air Force employee, appeals our Claims Group settlement /1/ denying her request for a waiver of $1,520 in erroneous salary payments. For the reasons stated below, we sustain the Claims Group's action.

Ms. Hale was promoted from a grade GS-5, step 6 secretary position to a grade GS-6, step 5 management assistant position effective May 24, 1987. Accordingly, her annual salary increased to $19,827 from $18,774, and her gross biweekly pay increased to $760 from $720. She was furnished an SF- 50 (Notification of Personnel Action) reflecting her proper annual salary. Her SF 50 also noted that her salary included a special rate under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5303. That section authorizes agencies to offer higher minimum salaries for certain positions. Ms. Hale was paid for one pay period using the correct new rate of $760. However, starting on June 7, 1987, and continuing for the next 25 pay periods, Ms. Hale was paid using the erroneous biweekly rate of $820. According to the record, a payroll clerk had inadvertently entered her salary into the payroll system as that for a grade GS-7, step 5 ($21,418 per annum). Ms. Hale states that she requested the accounting office to verify her salary and that she was told that her salary was correct and that the second increase reflected the allowance awarded to Washington, D.C., metropolitan area employees whose positions require typing, which Ms. Hale's position required. This fact is not disputed by the agency. /2/ She also states that her earnings and leave statements showed her correct grade GS-6, step 5.

The Air Force denied Ms. Hale's request for waiver. Even though she notified the payroll office of the increase in her pay, the Air Force maintains that, in the absence of a second SF-50 substantiating her pay at a higher annual rate, she should have continued to pursue the matter with the civilian personnel office. For that same reason, our Claims Group denied Ms. Hale's request for waiver.

We may waive claims for overpayments of pay if collection would be against equity and good conscience, provided there is no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, fault or lack of good faith on the employee's part. 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584 (1988).

Generally, an employee is considered at least partially at fault for erroneous payments if he or she fails to question an unexplained increase in pay that would cause a reasonable person to make an inquiry. Sheldon H. Avenius, Jr., B-226465, Mar. 23, 1988. A general inquiry to the personnel office without bringing a specific problem of which the employee is aware to their attention is considered insufficient inquiry. Cathy A. Clark, B-230464, Dec. 12, 1988. Also, we have denied waiver where an employee continues to receive erroneous payments after notifying the personnel office of a mistake of which she is aware because she had received documents showing that she was being paid at an erroneous rate. Beatrice M. Lansdown, B-201815, Mar. 25, 1981. We have imputed notice of an error to employees with a demonstrated knowledge of pay matters. Fred T. Dick, B-188802, Dec. 30, 1977. However, where an agency has affirmed an employee's pay after an inquiry and the employee has no reason to doubt the agency's response, we have granted waiver. Joanne B. Fuesel, B-229394, Feb. 2, 1988; Garnette F. Miller, B-221672, Oct. 16, 1986.

The record does not disclose exactly what the personnel specialist told Ms. Hale in response to her inquiry. Had Ms. Hale inferred that the original SF-50 and the first raise had erroneously excluded the special allowance for her typing position, she might have concluded that the second raise merely reflected an adjustment for the allowance. However, the SF-50 accompanying her first pay increase stated "Special Rate Under 5 U.S.C. 5305" indicating that the allowance already had been included in her pay. The form also showed her annual gross salary, which if Ms. Hale had divided by 26 would have given her the correct bi-weekly gross salary. Therefore, she had sufficient documentation to give her reason to doubt the agency's response and should have acted more diligently to have the error corrected.

The Claims Group's denial of waiver is sustained. TO: Director, Claims - GGD FROM: General Counsel - James F. Hinchman SUBJECT: Linda L. Hale's Request for Waiver of Salary Overpayments-- B-240393-O.M.

Returned is claim file Z-2901678 relating to the subject waiver request and a copy of our decision B-240393 waiving the debt.

/1/ Z-2901678-076, Mar. 28, 1990.

/2/ We informally contacted Ms. Hale's former supervisor who stated that Ms. Hale brought the matter to her attention and that she was present with Ms. Hale when Ms. Hale had the telephone conversation in question.