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County will continue to pay insurance for staff on quarantine

Taylor County won’t penalize employees who have been quarantined due to contact tracing who are out of paid time off.

Under the county’s personnel policy, if employees take unpaid leave they are charged for the full cost of their health insurance benefits for those days. At the October 15 county personnel committee meeting, human resources director Marie Koerner raised concern with the county’s personnel committee that this could hurt employees who have been placed on quarantine due to contact tracing. Koerner said there are employees who have been placed on quarantine who do not have any paid leave time remaining if they were to be put on quarantine again. Koerner noted that this was becoming an issue with workers whose elementary-aged children were sent home from school due to quarantining.

Koerner recommend waiving the policy that requires those on unpaid leave to pay the employer portion of the benefits. The county currently pays more than 85% of the health insurance premium for county workers depending on their health plans.

Committee member Lester Lewis asked if any of the employees who were quarantined were able to continue doing their work remotely. Koerner said that some have been continuing to work from home.

Under the county’s policies, employees must use all of their accrued paid leave time including sick leave, vacation and compensatory time. Koerner questioned if the county should require the employees to use all their vacation time for being in quarantine. “Do we allow them to keep a couple of days vacation down the road?” she asked.

“If they have paid time off they should use it,” Lewis said, noting that using the paid days would eliminate questions over insurance payments. He agreed the county should continue to cover its share of the benefit costs if they are unpaid leave. However, he noted that an employee could be off for a month or more. Because of COVID-19’s long incubation time, someone who was exposed to it but was quarantined may not show symptoms until they have been off for 10 days and then if they get sick would be unable to return to work until they recovered.

“We have to be flexible,” said committee member Tim Hansen. “The normal rules don’t apply.” Committee member Rollie Thums agreed saying the employees should exhaust all their paid days before being able to take unpaid days.

In other business committee members approved the county’s safety and health plan. The plan is supposed to be developed by the county’s safety committee, but the job has largely fallen to Koerner. The committee is made up of the department heads from some of the larger county departments.

Lewis said that going forward he would like for that committee to be more active in keeping the plan updated. “It should not be one person’s responsibility,” Lewis said.

Koerner said it should be up to department heads to make sure the individual employees review the safety plan and do the necessary training.

Committee chairman Chuck Zenner agreed, noting he felt Koerner had enough on her plate with other duties.

Zenner raised the question of safety equipment and where the county should draw the line on what equipment will be provided.

“I don’t think we can go overboard,” Lewis responded, saying that all it would take is one incident to make the county wish it had invested in more safety equipment. “If more comes out you will get more,” he said of the need to keep up on safety equipment.

Koerner questioned about the quality of the items to be purchased. “There is a situation when you may have to buy the top of the line,” she said.

Zenner agreed noting that as long as it is OSHA and other workplace safety ratings approved they should be OK without buying the best.

“As long as it is usable,” agreed Lewis.

They also approved the job description for the data records manager position in the sheriff’s department. The job description had previously been reviewed at department level with no changes.