Commission seeks to extend sick leave for county workers

The Claiborne Commission will be voting during its January meeting on whether to extend three resolutions an extra six months past their Dec. 31 deadlines. Resolutions 044, 045 and 046 addressed COVID-19 concerns about sick leave for county employees affected by the virus.

When the Family First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law last March, it provided an additional 14 days of sick time above and beyond any sick days allotted to full time employees.

Although the bill has expired, COVID-19 continues, prompting the drafting of Resolution 2021-004. This resolution essentially extends the paid leave to county employees who have not yet been affected by the virus.

The resolution lays out strict guidelines. COVID-19 sick time must be used only for virus-related concerns like quarantining. Those using the special sick days must be doing so due to a positive test result or because someone living within the employee’s home has tested positive for the virus.

COVID-19 sick time can be used only by those employees who have not yet utilized the leave during the initial period that ended on Dec. 31.

Also written into the resolution is a caveat that any employee who refuses to take the vaccine when eligible will not be able thereafter to claim the special sick time.

Last month, the commission unanimously approved a last-minute resolution sponsored by commissioner Charlton Vass. A few scenarios were visited during the lengthy discussion.

Commissioner Steve Brogan questioned the necessity of amending the current sick leave policies. If adopted, the resolution up for vote this month will expand the perimeters to allow for specific situations. For instance, if a spouse who works outside the county contracts the virus, the Claiborne County employee would be able to use the COVID-19 sick days to quarantine rather than be forced to use the regular accrued employee leave.

Possible abuses of the extended policies were discussed. Commissioner Kim Large asked how the county could go about verifying that an employee must quarantine.

Claiborne County mayor Joe Brooks suggested making it mandatory that the employee submit something from the health department showing that a family member or someone living in the home has tested positive for the virus.

Contact tracing will verify those people, he said.

Commissioner Brent Clark raised the concern that it may become difficult to monitor the pay each time an employee must quarantine.

Brooks suggested adding a caveat to the proposed resolution that would set a limit to the number of times an employee may expect to be paid during quarantine.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m penalizing anybody. If you have six kids in the home with two parents…we’re not going to pay you to be out 8 times for quarantine for 10 days. Two weeks you’re going to be without pay and one week we’re going to pay you.

“I can see some people abusing the policy. Those moneys (salaries in the county coffer) are already budgeted for that employee whether they’re there or not,” said Brooks.

Commissioner Whitt Shuford suggested that it is the responsibility of department heads to closely monitor those suspected of abusing the special leave.

Commissioner Brogan said he felt there should be a policy in place that allows reimbursement of COVID-19 testing during non-business hours like evenings, overnight and weekends.

Brooks said there are pharmacies and Urgent Care facilities that could provide the testing. Those experiencing major symptoms like inability to breathe should go to the Emergency Room, he said.

The next meeting of the Claiborne County Commission is scheduled for Jan. 25 beginning at 6:30 p.m. Due to COVID-19 the meeting will likely be closed to the public.

However, the sessions have been live streamed via 106.3 fm The Big One’s Facebook page where any questions raised by the public may be put to the commissioners.