Sometimes an employer or employee wonders if a particular job title and pay grade are truly appropriate for the work being done. By completing a desk audit, civil service or private employers can determine the accuracy of job titles and pay grades within their organization. An employee requesting a desk audit might be able to remove unnecessary responsibilities from their workload or earn a different pay grade more appropriate to their work.

How Desk Audits Work

Desk audits are arranged in order to determine the accuracy of an employee's title and pay grade. There are two ways a desk audit can be requested:

  • Employee requested: An employee might notice that their responsibilities and workload are more in line with employees in a higher pay grade than their own. They might be responsible for overseeing the performance of other employees and ensuring team procedural adherence, yet are being paid below management grade. This employee can request a desk audit in order to eliminate unnecessary responsibilities or earn a higher title with more pay. 
  • Employer requested: Occasionally, employers elect to perform desk audits in order to ensure employees are properly classified and paid for the work they are doing. This can sometimes be a way to save money, especially if several employees are classified as a higher pay grade than the work they are actually performing.

Once a desk audit has been requested by an employee or employer, an auditor meets with the employee to interview them about the work they are doing, as well as to review evidence regarding their typical responsibilities. The auditor makes recommendations to the employer about the appropriateness of the employee's title and pay grade. The employer uses this information to make one of several choices:

  • Leave things as they are: The auditor concludes that the employee's daily tasks and responsibilities are in line with their job description, so the employer chooses not to make changes.
  • Downgrade the employee's pay grade: The auditor concludes that the employee is operating at a lower pay grade, so the employer chooses to reclassify their pay grade, resulting in less pay and a lower title. 
  • Upgrade the employee's pay grade: The auditor concludes that the employee is operating at a higher pay grade than listed, so the employer chooses to reclassify their pay grade, resulting in a promotion with more pay.
  • Change employee's responsibilities: The employer chooses to give the employee more responsibilities or remove responsibilities so that their work matches their job description and no demotion or promotion is necessary. 

Example: CSULB Desk Audit Procedures

California State University Long Beach (CSULB) is an example of a public university that has implemented clear desk audit policies. CSULB desk audit procedures are detailed and include four phases:

  1. Preparing the cycle review packet: Staff Human Resources staff meets with the appropriate administrator to discuss the position to be desk audited, the job description and the audit process. The appropriate employee(s) are notified of the desk audit and given time to prepare, then meet with an appropriate administrator to discuss their position and sign paperwork in the cycle review packet.
  2. After the cycle review packet is received by Staff Human Resources: The cycle review packet is received by Staff Human Resources classifiers, who determine the appropriateness of the employee's job title and pay grade. Sometimes, the classifier meets with the employee for additional clarification. The classifier discusses their findings with the appropriate administrator. 
  3. Notification of review: The employee is notified of the classifier's decision and the reasoning behind it. 
  4. Appeals: If the employee disagrees with the classifier's findings, they have 30 days to appeal the decision so that another classifier can review the case. The second classifier's findings are final for 12 months before another desk audit can be conducted. 

Desk Audit: Private Organizations

When it comes to a routine desk audit, private organizations tend to perform them less often than civil service employers. Some private organizations, like St. Lawrence University, provide standard procedures for desk audits. St Lawrence's procedures are similar to the CSULB desk audit procedures and include:

  • Request for desk audit by employee or employer.
  • Auditor interviews the employee about the work they perform.
  • Auditor makes recommendations to Human Resources.
  • Human Resources makes a decision based on the auditor's conclusions.
  • Employee is notified and issued back pay, if appropriate.

Desk Audit: Civil Service and OPM

Employers tend to desk audit civil service employees routinely, partially due to the desire to responsibly allocate taxpayer funds within an organization. When an employer notifies a department about a desk audit, civil service employees often meet with a third party auditor supplied through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The OPM desk audit template is standardized to provide replicable results from one office to another.

While they utilize standard procedures, questions are specifically designed and tailored to the position and office where they are interviewing. OPM auditors meet with employees and supervisors to gather thorough information before issuing recommendations in a detailed evaluation statement.

Union: Desk Audit Support

For employees who belong to a union, desk audit support is often plentiful. Some unions are willing to provide a union representative to accompany an employee to their desk audit. Sometimes union desk audit support includes advice like:

  • You cannot lose your job for requesting a desk audit.
  • You may be promoted or demoted based on desk audit findings.
  • You may not be punished for requesting a desk audit. 

Your union or a union representative might also grant you guidance on how to prepare for a desk audit, how to appeal a decision or what to do if your desk audit request is refused. Union desk audit support varies from one union to another, so be sure to reach out and find out what specific support your union provides.

Preparing for a Desk Audit

Whether you are an employer or employee preparing for a desk audit, there are certain things you can do to help the process go as smoothly as possible. Here are some ideas:

  • Gather all job description information.
  • Compile evidence of the work actually done, like reports, emails and completed projects.
  • Consult with union representatives, when appropriate.
  • Contact your auditor to ask about any additional information they would like you to prepare.

Remember to be thorough and truthful about the work you or your employees routinely do and remember that regular tasks are more heavily weighted than occasional responsibilities. For instance, if an employee covers for a manager once a year during vacation, this might not cause any reclassification. On the other hand, if they have managerial responsibilities on a daily or weekly basis, the auditor is likely to recommend some changes.

Appealing a Desk Audit 

If desk audit outcomes seem inaccurate to you or your employee(s), you can sometimes appeal the decision. Check with your organization to find out about the formal appeal policies. Your union might also have additional thoughts on appeal requirements. If possible, ask for a different auditor and strive to provide additional evidence to back up your stance. It might be that you left out vital evidence the first time around and can change the outcome by providing the auditor with more thorough information.