On Wednesday, Lowndes County supervisors spent most of their last meeting of 2020 talking about how the county will handle employee sick leave related to COVID-19 in 2021.
County Administrator Jay Fisher informed supervisors of a need to change the COVID-19 policy because of changes included in the new relief package passed by Congress and signed by the president on Sunday.
“Under the CARES Act that expires on Dec. 31, the federal government provided for 80 hours of paid time off for people that were either infected by the virus or exposed to someone with the virus and had to quarantine,” Fisher said. “We were hopeful that part of the act would be renewed, but the new act does not include that protection. Right now, our policy mirrors the policy we had. Now that’s changing as of Friday, we’re going to take some kind of action.
Fisher recommended that the board agree to change the policy to continue providing 80 hours for COVID-related absences among its employees. District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said the Mississippi Legislature passed legislation before the federal CARES Act was passed that allowed local governments to pay employees with COVID-related absences without requiring employees to use their sick days.
“The other thing is that, at some point during my tenure on the board, there was a policy that allows employees to donate their sick time to other employees,” Brooks said.
Fisher acknowledged that possibility, but raised the question of whether it was fair to all employees.
“Let’s say someone got coronavirus in November and the federal government provided 80 yours of time off.” Fisher said. “That person didn’t have to use his sick time or vacation time. The government provided it.
“Now, another person gets coronavirus on Jan. 4,” he continued. “Am I going to tell that person, ‘Sorry, but we’re not going to provide those 80 hours of time off. You’re going to have to use your own personal time or sick time just because of the timing of when you got the virus?’ My recommendation is that we mirror what we have now and carry it forward to 2021. I realize there may be other ideas, though, and that’s why I’m bringing it to your attention now so that we can make a decision at our next meeting.”
The board took no action, but agreed that it will adopt a policy to address the issue at Monday’s board meeting.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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