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Hall County commissioners discuss employee benefits at retreat

POSTED: March 28, 2013 12:08 a.m.

Hall County commissioners spent about two hours of the second day of their retreat Wednesday discussing possible changes to employees’ sick and vacation time.

Human Resources Director Bill Moats discussed several items concerning benefits for county employees, as well as other HR matters.

Moats and County Administrator Randy Knighton both emphasized that the ideas discussed weren’t being decided on or brought before the board now.

Moats said the department was in the process of updating the employee handbook, including making policies current, clarifying and adding policies, such as attendance, harassment and mobile device use. He also went through the county’s retirement plan options, health insurance for retirees and an overview of changes from the new federal health care law that takes effect next year.

Next year, insurance companies are barred from charging more from women and people with pre-exisiting conditions. The health care law will also make part-time employees who work 30 or more hours a week or 130 hours a month eligible for health coverage.

Hall County has more than 1,500 employees, with about 1,234 full-time workers and nearly 300 part-time. County payroll records for Jan. 18 showed 61 part-time employees who worked more than 30 hours that pay period.

“The reason I wanted to bring this up to you guys today (is) because the clock is ticking and we’ve got to be ready to go on Jan. 1,” Moats said.

Part of the discussion on benefits centered on an idea to make sick time and vacation more effective and cost-effective for employees and the county.

One option discussed was converting existing sick time into short-term disability time and converting existing vacation time to paid time off. Employees wouldn’t lose time already accrued.

Currently, employees have separate sick time and vacation banks.

Sick time, 80 hours a year, is awarded every Jan. 1, with a max of 720 hours, and any time beyond that rolls into a reserve that can’t be used without approval from Knighton.

Vacation is earned based on years of service and is paid out when an employee leaves a county position. Firefighters accrue benefits differently.

There’s about $8 million of available sick time and about $3.6 million in vacation time available to current employees as of Feb. 28, Moats said. Workers took more than 10,600 sick hours in February. Moats said the numbers surprised him.

“I was shocked to see that 65 percent of people that had sick time available to them were out,” he said. “I think right now under the current plan, there’s no incentive to come to work.”

Under the conversion idea, short-term disability would be used for an employee’s illness, injury or medical condition. It would require a five-day elimination period, cap the hours at 480 in the bank, and hours beyond that go into the reserve bank.

The county would pay 100 percent short-term disability wages. Vacation time would convert into PTO with the current vacation accrual levels and an additional two days. PTO would be accrued on a monthly basis and can be a use-it-or-leave-it system. Commissioner Craig Lutz asked if the people who were out in February were missed.

“I missed them,” board Chairman Richard Mecum said.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he understands that employees earn these benefits, but they’re being paid by taxpayers.

“Somebody is not getting the service that they paid for,” Gibbs said.

Moats said he was concerned about both the employee and the county and he didn’t want people who were sick coming to work to spread the illness. He said he wanted to make sure that if a change was made, it didn’t affect morale.

Gibbs said people who have vacation hours should take them, so they come back recharged.

Knighton said county staff will return to the board with more focused information based on the ideas generated.


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