Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown subtracted hours from employees’ timecards in apparent violation of federal law, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
The first-term councilwoman shorted an employee by more than three hours in a day in several cases. At least six times, Brown deleted enough hours from employees’ reported workweeks that it cost them overtime by bringing their weekly total under 40 hours.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime pay and accurate record keeping. City policy prohibits supervisors from changing employees’ timecards except to correct errors. A spokeswoman for the Harris County district attorney said the office does not confirm the existence of investigations but said the Public Integrity Unit would handle a complaint if one were filed. Charges that could result from the circumstances described by the Chronicle could include tampering with a government document, a felony, she said.
Brown’s staff at one time included five 39-hour-per-week employees classified as part-timers. Many of Brown’s changes to the times reported by her employees appear to shorten or lengthen their workweeks to exactly 39 hours.
These are serious allegations, and there doesn’t seem to be much room for mitigation or extenuating circumstances, but we don’t have the full story. I hope there is an investigation by the District Attorney’s office because one way or another we should get some kind of official resolution to this. If you want to play the speculation game, ask yourself how the Chron knew to go looking for this information. Someone tipped them, the question is who. Holiday week or no, I’m sure the rumor mill is on overdrive this week. Whatever happens from here, there has already been one change resulting from this:
[City Attorney David] Feldman said he did give Brown’s office legal advice on how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. While he would not specify what that advice was, he said the general issue was with her 39-hour-per-week part-time employees. She has three. The difficulty of properly tracking their hours creates the potential for FLSA violations, Feldman said.
“She is still in the process of converting over the 39-hour employees to regular full-time employees,” he said.
I’m sure they’ll still decline their health insurance benefits, though. By coincidence or not, this investigative piece came out just ahead of this Houston Press cover story on Brown that I daresay will have tingues wagging at City Hall for weeks. I’ve read it and am still thinking about it; I’ll have some thoughts on it later. Bay Area Houston and Stace have more.