Even though the federal government no longer requires employers to provide sick leave to employees who are out of work because of COVID-19, at least three government entities in Nash County have voted in recent days to extend that benefit at their own expense.
Nash County, Nash County Public Schools and the Town of Nashville have adopted policies this month to extend these benefits in some form.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which required eligible employers to provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) to employees out of work due to COVID-related reasons, expired on Dec. 31, 2020, Nash County Human Resources Director Anison Kirkland told county commissioners at last week’s board meeting.
“As the cases of the virus continue to rise across the country and within our community, we are experiencing a substantial increase in the number of employees who are affected by the virus and are unable to work. Reports and statistics suggest that this trend may continue further into the 2021 calendar year,” Kirkland said.
Because of this trend, county staff recommended that commissioners adopt a policy to extend certain aspects of the FFCRA until March 31, at which time it would be further reviewed by the county. Under the plan, which was adopted unanimously by commissioners, employees will maintain their eligibility under certain conditions for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for any EPSL balance that had not already been used before Jan. 1.
The plan would allow eligible employees to qualify for emergency paid sick leave if the employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; has been advised by their health care provider to self-quarantine because they are infected with or have been exposed to COVID-19 or are at high risk of complications from COVID-19; or is showing symptoms of COVID-19 and actively seeking but not yet received a medical diagnosis.
The plan also has two other provisions designed to protect both the county and its employees. Under the terms of the plan, employees seeking compensation under this policy found solely to be taking this leave to defraud Nash County will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
However, Nash County will not retaliate against any employee who requests to take county EPSL in accordance with the policy.
Nash County Manager Zee Lamb said he and his staff have been “kicking around” the idea for weeks.
“The situation is that more than 200 county employees utilized this sick leave before the end of the year, but there are still others that are showing symptoms or being told to stay home now,” he said. “We want to be able to give those employees the same benefit that the other employees were given for the same situation.”
Lamb also said that leave for day care situations is not included in the plan.
Nash County adopted the plan on Jan. 19, the same day Nash County Public Schools adopted a similar plan for school district employees. As with the Nash County plan, the leave can only be approved for employees who have not already used their FFCRA leave.
The school district plan also allows for the leave to be used by employees caring for a person subject to a COVID-related quarantine or caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19.
At a special called school board meeting on Jan. 18, Sheila Wallace, executive director of human resources and federal programs for Nash County Public Schools, said the benefits of providing COVID leave approval would be that the employees would have up to 80 hours of emergency leave that would not affect their accrued leave. The decision also would make schools eligible for substitutes in these cases, she said.
However, this decision also means that the school district will be assuming the cost of a substitute in these cases in addition to paying the salary of the employee for up to 80 hours. The cost of this would be borne by the state if the employee is paid by the state, Wallace said, but it would be paid by the school district for other positions such as teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria staff.
Wallace and school board attorney Rod Malone said that some of these costs could be defrayed under circumstances where employees qualify for Contagious Disease Leave, which is paid by the state.
“This type of leave is available when the health department orders an employee to leave a worksite because of a communicable disease — for example, when a quarantine order is issued. Employees who can work from home may be asked to do that in lieu of applying for contagious disease leave,” Wallace said.
Malone said this is a good option for employees who meet these circumstances.
“This is a type of leave that predates COVID but which has been rarely used,” Malone said. “If the local health director or his representative tells an employee that he or she must stay home, then the state pays for this leave.”
The school board leave policy also ends on March 31 unless the board votes for another extension.
The Town of Nashville also adopted a similar policy earlier this month. That policy extends until June 30.
Nashville Town Manager Randy Lansing told town council members that he recommended the adoption of the policy.
“Roughly one-quarter of the town employees have already used this leave before the end of December and can’t use it again,” he said. “I feel that the town budget will probably be able to handle it without any needed budget amendments.”
The Nashville Town Council unanimously approved the adoption of the policy.
Employees of these institutions should check with their human resource departments about the details of the policies.