Testing for COVID-19 may be required if Warren County government employees wish to cash in on an additional 80 hours of paid leave, a requirement that aims to prevent false claims of coronavirus exposure.
“I think, initially, we left a few gaps in the policy that need to be closed up now,” said county safety coordinator David Britton, to members of the county Policy and Personnel Committee. “One of them being that you are going to be sent home for a 3-5 day period and then you have to be tested.”
Employees who refuse to be tested will not be allowed to use any of the additional 80 hours provided by the COVID-19 policy established by the county to compensate employees who were off work due to the pandemic. They can, however, use sick leave and/ or vacation time for the days they are off work. If an employee is tested and that result is negative, they must return to work.
“The world is full of choices,” said Britton. “Every personal choice I’ve ever made came with some ramifications. I think if an employee is not willing to at least do that, then I don’t think they should be entitled to this benefit. I think there needs to be some accountability on that side.”
The proposed change to the policy came following speculation by Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin during August’s full Warren County Commis-sion meeting that some county employees were falsely claiming exposure to COVID in order to obtain the additional 80 hours.
During the commission meeting, County Executive Jimmy Haley attempted to dispel the belief that abuse of the policy has occurred by asking Finance Department director Justin Cotten if he knew of any abuse, which Cotten replied that he did not, to his knowledge, know of any.
“I know for a fact it has been abused,” said Bouldin to committee members. “I’ve had different directors tell me about people in their employment. One employee self-quarantined three times for 14 days [a total of 42 days]. That was before the 80-hour cap was put on it. It’s not the majority, it’s the minority that abuse it.”
The abuse isn’t isolated to employees.
“One office employee was off on vacation and contracted COVID while on vacation,” said Bouldin. “Despite the fact they hadn’t been in the office for 10 days, that positive test was used to shut the entire office down for two days so it could be professionally cleaned. All those employees were paid for those two days while it was being cleaned.”
Bouldin gave no indication which office, but that it was an office within Warren County Administrative Offices.
“I think there should be some stronger restrictions on this,” said Bouldin. “Giving people two weeks off work just because they may have been exposed, I’m not in favor of that.”
In attendance were County Clerk Lesa Scott, elections administrator Susie Davenport, Trustee Darlene Bryant and Property Assessor Beth Martin. All voiced approval for continuing to provide employees with 80 additional hours and gave no resistance to the placement of measures to prevent abuse.
Britton offered to revamp the COVID-19 policy and present it to the full Warren County Commission in September. Britton said those changes would include mandatory testing, if an employee wishes to use the additional 80 hours rather than sick leave or vacation time.