Commissioners approve additional paid leave

At a special meeting Friday morning, the Stanly County Board of Commissioners approved an additional two weeks of paid leave for county employees.

The leave comes because of one of the COVID-19 acts passed by the United States Congress, The Family First Coronavirus Response Act. The act provides emergency paid sick leave above and beyond what government employees normally accrue, according to County Manager Andy Lucas.

Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or those told to isolate pending a test result will go on this two-week leave.

“We don’t really have any choice but to pay that,” Lucas said, adding the time will not come from an employee’s accrued sick leave.

Lucas mentioned North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home executive order, which stated all non-essential employees should not be at their respective place of business.

The county manager noted a lot of the county’s employees deemed non-essential do not want to use their personal vacation or sick time to stay at home.

“It puts us in a situation where either we furlough them, mandate they use vacation or sick time or we give them additional time,” Lucas said. “The goal is to flatten the (coronavirus curve) and get people out of here. People don’t need to be out and around.”

Some of the county’s employees are deemed non-essential, Lucas said, because some facilities are completely closed, including the Agri-Civic Center and the Senior Center.

Certain facilities, such as the Stanly Commons, are limited-access with the public not having interaction with employees. However, Lucas noted certain operations, such as the Department of Social Services or the Tax Office, must continue to operate.

Lucas also said county employees have been encouraged to use vacation or sick time if for some reason they do not feel comfortable going to work. Employees who can work from home are encouraged to do so, along with some choosing to work four-day work weeks.

Lucas recommended the board pass a motion to add a special, one-time annual leave of 10 days to all full-time employees. The special leave must be used between April 6 and May 1 by non-essential employees; essential employees must use at least one week of the special leave before the end of 2020.

Non-essential employees with closed facilities or services must use the two weeks of leave between April 6 and April 17, then use their own accrued vacation and sick leave by May 1.

The motion also had an exemption for healthcare providers and emergency responders from the time constraints. Those exemptions included the caring for a child due to the closing of a school or childcare facility and caring for an individual subject to quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. The exemption does not override the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In responding to a question, Lucas said there are approximately 25 employees who fall into the non-essential category. Some county employees of closed facilities or programs, he added, have been reassigned to other duties.

Commissioner Bill Lawhon asked about closed companies borrowing money through personal payroll programs and whether the county should look into it.

In response to Lawhon, Commissioner Tommy Jordan said there is probably not enough in one of those programs for county governments to use.

“If we have a budget we have already approved and the money is there, I feel like we should maybe leave that for the private sector,” Jordan said.

Jordan said employees working in something other than their primary job should be productive as long as it does not violate social distancing. He said if the county is paying for those employees to continue working, he wanted some work to be getting done.

After Jordan made the motion and it passed unanimously, Lucas said the board may have to revisit the issue on or after April 20, depending on the virus’ spread or additional order by the governor.