Developing new practices for COVID-19 just another day in Payroll Operations 

Many groups around King County have had to adapt rapidly to the challenges posed by the coronavirus, switching gears to accommodate new policies and procedures. But for the Central Payroll Operations Team, a small group of employees who already move at a quick pace, these changes are part of their ever-evolving work routine.

As we celebrate National Payroll Week, we spoke with Payroll Operations Supervisor Pam Bell to learn more about how the Team is operating during this time. Pam joined King County in 2004 and has been with the Department of Executive Services (DES) in her current role since then.

Central Payroll Operations works hard to ensure paychecks are received in a timely, smooth manner, with no hiccups or inconveniences to employees. The team also handles payroll taxes and provides employees with annual W-2 forms.

“So payroll seems like it would be really simple: department timekeepers report time and time off, Human Resources reports changes to positions or pay rates  and employees magically get a paycheck or direct deposit,” Pam said. “But the truth of the matter is something is always changing, like state laws, union contracts, or federal laws. Honestly, there’s never a dull moment.”

Pam explains how the team and the payroll community across the County have a rigid production schedule they follow to meet payroll deadlines, and to do so means regularly adapting to constant changes. This includes potential changes in multiple County systems (such as Oracle and PeopleSoft), adjusting to support employee needs, and relying on current, up-to-the-minute information from timekeepers and departments. Doing this work efficiently and quickly means utilizing Lean methods and implementing continuous improvement methods.

“We always try to do things as streamlined as possible to get work done, but success really depends on our ability to work with others, like the Business Resource Center (BRC),” Pam said. “If there is a new law or regulation, for example a new medical leave type, then we have to work with our business partners and the BRC to make sure it can get done for employees.”

“We are always looking for continuous improvement as we have a short period for turnaround so we have to be quick,” she adds.

The most recent example of changes Payroll made was working with the Department of Human Resources (DHR) – which it is joining on Jan. 1, 2021 – to implement new codes for COVID-19 related acts passed in Congress, including extended family medical leave, COVID-19 leave, emergency leave bank, identifying wage types, and filing payroll taxes for the County. Working to address these changes was challenging, but Pam credits her team and the focus they bring to their work for being continuously successful in providing employees an essential service.

“We also deal with the output from payroll, meaning everything you see on your paycheck, every deduction you see, our section, the Benefits, Payroll, and Retirement team does,” she said. “We prefer to think of ourselves as if we’re doing our job right, then nobody knows who we are.”

Pam explains that when employees have payroll issues, they are directed to speak with their department payroll representative to review the data that was submitted for her team to process, as her team ensures taxes and deductions are applied and payments are made. While there are other teams who do payroll or submit employee hours in certain department, such as Public Health and the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the Central Payroll Operations Team is the only team in the County that can provide payments and process checks.

It is a task that requires each employee’s full attention, and it is this focus that helps the Central Payroll Operations Team be successful collectively and thrive in their individual roles.

“To be honest, I can’t imagine anyone being successful in this group of professionals if they weren’t agile or able to make quick decisions,” Pam said. “You can’t say ‘Oh I’ll do that tomorrow or next week’ because things have to be done within the next hour. To be happy in this work, you have to be very present in what you are doing all the time.”

The team has also made a few physical adjustments in response to the virus, with employees rotating days present in the office with telecommuting, being flexible with each other’s schedules, communicating more about tasks and needs, and working together to ensure items like paperwork, the mailbox, and systems are regularly reviewed.

Pam and the Central Payroll Operations Team take great pride in their work, for the value it brings each employee, and for the role it plays in King County as a community leader.

“We pay everybody across the County. It doesn’t matter where you work, what you do, or who you are, our mission is to make sure that you have a paycheck on payday and that it’s right,” Pam said. “Besides being a team who is comprised of people who are very good at what they do and enjoy working with the payroll community across the County, we enjoy working in the public sector and are grateful that employees can count on us because they bring such value and service to all of King County.”

On Jan. 1, 2021, Central Payroll – which is part of the Benefits, Payroll and Retirement Operations section (BPROS) of DES – will join DHR when BPROS transitions to the department.