The generosity of Warren County commissioners came to an end Monday night.
After reports that some county employees were taking advantage of a COVID-19 policy by falsely claiming exposure to the virus to cash in on an extra 80 hours of paid leave, commissioners voted to no longer provide that benefit.
With a 12-11 vote, the Warren County Commission opted not to extend a COVID-19 policy that outlines employee leave due to COVID-19 and provides employees with an additional 80 hours of paid leave annually.
Voting against providing the benefit were Commissioners Michael Bell, Carl D. Bouldin, Randy England, Steven Helton, Brad Hillis, Daniel Owens, Gary Prater, Scott Rubley, Joseph Stotts, Phillip Stout, Cole Taylor and Blaine Wilcher.
Voting in favor of continuing to provide the benefit were Commissioners Carlene Brown, David Dunlap, Deborah Evans, Steve Glenn, Robert Hennessee, Ron Lee, Gary Martin, Kasey Owens, Christy Ross, Tommy Savage and Tyrone Sparkman.
“It is time for Americans to go back to work, to do the best they can and to work with what they have,” said Bouldin, who brought misuse reports to the attention of the County Commission in August and a desire to remove the additional 80 hours. “I’m proposing that if someone quarantines or has COVID, they use their sick days. Those are allotted to them for sick days.”
County employees are provided 12 sick days a year and according to Bouldin, those are allowed to accumulate if not used.
“I think the two weeks or 10 days off is a little bit much,” said Savage. “I wouldn’t do away with it completely. If you force somebody to come back too quick, they come back and infect somebody else and they could die.”
Misuse concerns were raised during the August session.
“After our last full court meeting, I met with a supervisor out in the parking lot,” said Helton. “The question was: has this policy been abused? They assured me this policy has been abused, that they’ve had an employee who has done it multiple times and they felt it was abused. I’m not going to name a department head.”
In an effort to ease concerns or prevent future misuse, the commission sent the policy for county Policy and Personnel Committee review. It suggested changes be made that require testing within three to five days. If the test is negative, the employee must immediately return to work. Refusal to test would disqualify the employee from using COVID-related sick days.
As pointed out by Bouldin, fully vaccinated people aren’t required to quarantine and that’s an option for those who do not wish to quarantine.
“You had the opportunity to be vaccinated,” said Bouldin, who voiced adamantly he’s not advocating vaccination. “That’s your choice. I’ve chosen not to be, so I would have to quarantine. If I get exposed, I can’t come in here to this meeting. If I had the vaccine, I could put a mask on and come into this meeting.”
Because the COVID-19 policy was not extended, the ending date is Sept. 30. County government employees will be allowed to use sick days and/ or vacation days during COVID quarantines or illnesses. Removed was the additional 80 hours.