The city of Denison approved a resolution excluding emergency responders from benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The law, which went into effect on April 1, provides for sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for COVID-19 related reasons.
Denison officials said the city wanted to pursue the exemption to maintain current staffing levels during the ongoing public health crisis. Additionally, the city offers its own set of sick-leave benefits to first responders and other measures that would assist employees during a time of need, City Manager Jud Rex said.
“Again, I think the benefit from exempting employees from the act — for us — is it gives us the flexibility to work individually with our employees and our circumstances and do what is best for them, and also ensure us that they can continue to provide essential services during this COVID-19 crisis,” Rex said, following Monday’s meeting.
The FFCRA was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 18 and set requirements for certain employers on providing paid sick leave during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
“In order to assist working families facing public health emergencies arising out of the COVID-19 global pandemic, temporary regulations were drafted and signed into law March, 18, 2020 through the Families First Corovavirus Response Act,” Denison Employee Services Director Amy Lay said.
For government employees, the act provides for 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay for employees in quarantine or self-care related to the disease. This also applies to workers who are experiencing symptoms and awaiting diagnosis and those caring for others with a diagnosis.
This sick leave would come in addition to any other leave or other entitlements earned by an employee.
The act also provides for an additional 80 hours of sick leave at two-thirds pay for those needing to care for an individual, or to take care of a child who is under the age of 18 whose school or childcare is closed due to the epidemic.
Finally, the act also provides for 10 weeks of expanded medical leave at two-thirds pay for employees of over 30 days who need to provide childcare for children who are out of school or childcare due to the epidemic.
However, the act may not ultimately apply to all government employees.
“The act and subsequently issued guidance from the department of labor allows for the exemption of emergency responders from the definition of covered employee,” Lay said.
The Department of Lavor has expanded the definition of emergency responder with regard to the act to include a variety of other roles.
Among the positions that are defined as emergency responders are: law enforcement officers, paramedics, public works personnel, firefighters, emergency management, special equipment operators, emergency medical staff and technicians, 911 operators and facility operations personnel who support these positions.
“Many cities will adopt the exemptions to maintain staffing at levels necessary to run essential departments,” Lay said.
Of the nearly 365 city employees, Rex said about two-thirds fit this new definition.
By exempting these employees from the act’s requirements, Rex said the city is working to maintain flexibility during a difficult situation and ensure these jobs and duties are still fulfilled.
Rex said the act included very rigid definitions and terminology, but lacked the flexibility for the city to work with their employees on an individual basis with regard to sick leave.
““We are really chained to that act unless we are exempt from it,” he said.
If left unchecked, Rex said the city risked having many staff take leave at the same time, lowering the efficieny of key departments.
In lieu of the leave offered in the act, Rex said the city offers its own benefits that will allow for employees to take time off using sick leave and vacation time.
Additionally, the city offers a sick leave pool where employees are allowed to offer up their earned sick leave to coworkers who may need it.
After an increase in donations recently, Rex said the pool currently has more than 1,000 hours banked up.
To date, Rex said six employees have qualified for leave and have made use of a mixture of personal time and pooled sick-leave hours.
With regard to the childcare stipulation, Rex said the city is also working on a case-by-case basis with employees, but this situation has not arisen yet.
“Really the action the council took tonight exempted our emergency responders from the act. Although the city already has policies in place to protect those employees, should they fall all, through our sick leave policies and other policies in place as well.”
2/3 fall under it.
Without sick leave. Mandated for Covid-19 cases. For public sector employers, duplicated effort.
“In fact our sick leave is more flexible than what the act requires.”
Had people donate to sick leave pool. Asked employees to further donate.
Had six employees qualify for leave. Used sick leave and from donated pool.
“Again I think the benefit from exempting employees from the act, for us, is it gives us the flexibility to work individually with our employees and our circumstances and do what is best for them, and also ensure us that they can continue to provide essential services during this COVID-19 crisis.”
Would have opened the door to employees taking leave and left the city at disadvantage if they took leave.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.