Time off proposal concerns county employees

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

More than 50 county government employees were at the Dubois County Commissioners special meeting Thursday morning.

Most of them were able to sit in the available chairs. But those ran out, so they lined the walls and filled in the space close to the door.

They were there for one reason: Concern about possible changes for tallying their vacation, personal leave and sick leave days.

“This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen” at a commissioners meeting, Commissioner Elmer Brames said. “And it’s not unexpected.”

When the employee handbook was updated three years ago, inconsistencies in the leave policy for the different departments was noticed.

“It became clear to the commissioners that we don’t have a lot of uniformity in our leave policy throughout the county,” Brames said. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with our leave policy, necessarily, in an individual situation. But throughout the county, there is not a lot of uniformity.

“Not saying there is anything wrong with individuality, but there was no uniformity through the county.”

Brames was charged with trying to come up with a new plan that would make calculating paid time off simpler. That work started last spring, he said.

Brames presented the proposal to Commissioners Nick Hostetter and Chad Blessinger Thursday morning. “We are learning about this as you are,” Blessinger told the group, “and nothing has been decided.”

Some department heads and employees were shown the proposal last week for feedback. The people in the room Thursday were there to share the problems they saw with the proposal.

“It is just a consideration at this point,” Brames said. “We may adopt this, all or none. Or we may say let’s continue doing what we are doing right now, or anything in between.”

The discussion lasted for almost two hours.

The proposal calls for lumping personal leave, sick leave and vacation days all together and calling it paid time off. The amount of time off would be calculated based on shift length, or how many days worked in a two-week period; employees are paid every two weeks.

This was the main problem for departments that are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A shift for a typical department that is open Monday through Friday is 10 days in two weeks at seven hours a day; that totals 70 hours. For the employees in the 24/7 departments — sheriff’s department, 911, community corrections — their shift in a two-week period is seven days at 12 hours per day; that totals 84 hours.

Other aspects of the proposal were discussed, but the shift length caused the most concern. If paid time off is based on the shift length of 10 days, which is being proposed, the employees in 24/7 departments would lose time off, many said.

“We’ll be put on an average number of hours per day in a scheduled cycle, which is being calculated as 8.4 hours per day,” Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter said. “I don’t understand why that is.” He said the average hours per day should be 12, not 8.4.

If 8.4 hours is used as an average day, Kleinhelter calculated that employees with a 24/7 department will lose between 75.6 and 117.6 hours of PTO a year, depending on how long they’ve been with the department.

“The longer someone works for Dubois County, the more you lose,” Kleinhelter said.

Community Corrections Director Megan Durcholz said the time off is needed.

“We experience a lot of secondary trauma. We experience a lot of high stress. It’s no secret suicide in these professions is the highest than in any other profession. So is alcoholism. So is mental heath [issues].”

Trying to calculate the time off in the manner proposed means county deputies, jailers, community corrections officers and 911 dispatchers will lose time with the new policy, she said.

“Equal is not necessarily fair,” she said.

Durcholz, Kleinhelter, along with others asked that more study be put into the proposal. Kleinhelter and other department heads volunteered to be on a committee with Brames to help craft a better solution, he said.

“We’ve worked extremely hard this year to bring morale up. And I’ve not seen morale go as low as it is in the past week, trying to figure out the PTO,” Kleinhelter said. “They don’t like the fact that they’re losing time. And I don’t like the fact that they’re losing time, either.”

Ultimately, the commissioners need to decide if they want to move to the paid time off model, do they want to base that paid time off on shift length or total hours worked, and the allocation of paid time off.

Depending on those answers, other details of the policy would need to be decided.

The commissioners will discuss the matter again at its Oct. 21 meeting.

The commissioners also:

Recognized the passing of Leon Fleck, a former Dubois County Commissioner and Dubois County Councilman. Fleck died Wednesday at age 85.

Discussed the proposals they received from firms seeking to design and build the justice center for the county. The commissioners will discuss the matter at its Oct. 21 meeting, to give themselves time to get additional information.




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