Personnel Specialist Ayana Cherry helps ensure employees receive their paychecks on time.

Personnel Specialist Ayana Cherry helps ensure employees receive their paychecks on time.

From time sheets to leave provisions, Ayana Cherry is always ready

By Juliana Burns, Intern, Office of Public and Employee Communications

People expect paychecks and overtime checks to be on time and accurate. When people make withholding and exemption changes, they also expect them to be immediate. On the front line of ensuring everyone gets paid for their work are Personnel Specialists like Ayana Cherry, who works at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Headquarters.

A 10-year veteran of CDCR, she has been a Personnel Specialist the last three years, although she said she has always worked in customer service.

“I just love it,” she said.

Cherry said this fast-paced work suits her. She loves being able to work with people and help them get what they’ve earned.

Every day, she settles down at her desk armed with a cup of coffee and a smile, ready to answer the flood of questions and concerns waiting in her email and voicemail messages.  After returning from an extended four-day weekend one morning, she has 64 phone and e-mail messages in need of a response.

The first two weeks of the month are typically busier as she works tirelessly processing time sheets and overtime payments.

Cherry is responsible for 15 units, duties which include every complaint, every pay check, every new employee appointment, and every hour of overtime for which she has to account. Her workload also includes employees in five different bargaining units which all have their own separate pay, overtime and leave provisions.

“Our day is never the same,” she said. “At any point you can be expected to stop what you are working on to help someone else.”

She has to be ready to go at any moment, even if that moment is an hour before a holiday or the weekend. If an employee resigns or retires, all of their paperwork and every hour worked dating back two years has to be accounted for within 72 hours, no matter the day of the week.

In one instance, a man came in to her office at 3 p.m. on a Friday before a three-day weekend and announced that he was quitting. She stayed to research two years of almost 2,400 hours of work to ensure the employee was issued on-time pay before she could leave her office.

Cherry is accustomed to working under deadlines. Throughout the month, there are mandatory deadlines to be met to ensure people receive the correct amount on their paychecks.

The work is non-stop, but she said she understands she is dealing with people and their money, which can be stressful.

She said one of the most important things in her line of work is to “not take anything personally.” She said people often come in stressed and concerned and “if you just hear them out” then you can work together to conquer any situation.

She said the best part of her job is when she can find someone money for work that they hadn’t been paid for.

To effectively respond to the overwhelming needs and requests from employees, Personnel Specialists must know the bargaining unit contracts front to back. She said her desk area is packed full of reference material and it’s imperative to stay updated with any changes made in the contracts, even those which seem minor.

Despite all the paperwork, phone calls and disgruntled employees, she said she loves her job.

“Many people think we don’t do anything, it’s actually non-stop work,” she said. “We are constantly busy and often drop whatever we are doing to help an employee.”

She thrives in the chaos of constant demands for her attention. She said she loves being able to help people, research their concerns and solve problems face-to-face with anyone who needs help.