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Lebanon city targets abuse of employee sick leave
Feb 17, 2006 12:00 am
February 14, 2006
Lebanon's 326 city employees took more than 25,000 hours of sick leave last year, a nearly $400,000 expense to taxpayers that has some in city government clamoring for reform.
A small group of city councilors, staff and Lebanon Mayor Don Fox met at the mayor's request Monday to tackle an extremely delicate issue – how to rein in what they say is a small number of people who consistently abuse the city's sick leave policy without unfairly punishing the vast majority of employees who do not.
About the only thing members of Mayor Don Fox's Personnel Regulations Committee agreed on was the current policy needs to be changed.
Just what changes to make, however, were largely left up in the air.
"What we're doing is very constructive, very positive," Fox said before the meeting "It's something that every company, every government should do often."
But according to other public officials on the committee, some of the changes being talked about are long overdue.
Lebanon's personnel rules and regulations allow city employees to earn up to 104 hours of additional sick leave each year they work. And city department heads claim that has paved the way for chronic abuse of the policy.
Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks pointed to 2005 figures showing Lebanon paid for more than 25,000 hours of sick leave for 326 employees. That cost the city about $400,000.
"I've discussed this and discussed this with the department heads who are under me," Weeks said. "And it's a concern, and I've brought that concern to my boss."
Weeks said some long-term employees should have well over a 1,000 hours of sick time built up, but are down to less than eight hours at any given time.
"Ninety-five percent of the city employees are hard workers who come to work every day," the public safety commissioner said. "Obviously you're going to be sick on occasion and your child's going to be sick, and we understand that. But when you should have thousands of hours built up in reserves and you're into the single digits, obviously there's just something wrong with that."
Lebanon Personnel Director Jim Henderson said between 3 and 5 percent of city employees abuse the sick leave policy by using all their available hours each year.
But capping the amount of sick leave hours an employee can build up was not something the committee was prepared to consider.
That policy is "the city's way of helping people prepare for catastrophes," Lebanon City Attorney Andy Wright said.
So the committee talked about four recommendations, which they hope to bring before the City Council:
· Eliminating the ability of department heads to excuse sick days.
· Giving employees no more than three days to get a doctor's excuse.
· Capping at three the number of doctor-excused sick incidents allowed in a 12-month period (there is currently no limit).
· Capping at 52 hours of over-budget sick time an employee can have in a 12-month period before having to undergo counseling.
Everyone acknowledged they are far from agreeing on the best set of solutions.
"There's always going to be a minority of people who will try to find any loophole they can," Henderson said.
Monday's meeting was not announced to the community through a public notice, but a Lebanon Democrat reporter was allowed to attend after showing up at city hall.
Fox said his original intent was to have the meeting behind closed doors.
"I did not want it to be publicized," Fox said. "This issue was thrown out there as a political football by someone trying to make it look like some serious administrative problem that we don't have."
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.