The Denver auditor’s office has reassigned employees to contact individuals who are owed money under the city’s wage rules and is no longer holding up payments to primary contractors in order to get money to workers more quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a temporary change while other duties that require in-person contact are on hold,” said Tayler Overschmidt, the office’s director of communications.
Normally, the office audits entire projects and requires general contractors to hold their subcontractors accountable for violations of Denver’s prevailing wage ordinance for publicly-funded ventures, which the auditor has found to be an effective method for achieving compliance. However, while the pandemic is shutting down businesses and Colorado is experiencing large numbers of layoffs, auditor personnel are working with companies to pay invoices for those subcontractors who do comply with the law.
“We did not previously do this because holding invoices is our most common form of enforcement to ensure all workers are paid the correct wages,” said Overschmidt, adding that it is unclear whether this change will remain in effect after the pandemic. “Once the COVID-19 issue is resolved, we will assess what lessons we can learn from this experience. So right now, it is too early to answer specifically what our operations will look like when we go back to business as usual.”
Since Auditor Timothy O’Brien took office in 2015, the office recovered 4.5 times as much owed back pay to workers in the following four years compared to the prior four. Part of the increase was due to a revision of the city’s prevailing wage ordinance, which sets standards for how contractors pay their employees on publicly-funded projects and now includes a stronger enforcement mechanism. The auditor also reviews all payrolls for prevailing wage compliance, compared to 20% before 2016.
“Having a certified public accountant as auditor was a significant change for the office,” Overschmidt said. “Since then, we have gradually increased our staff to support the increased workload and the auditor’s decision to improve and grow our work.”