Douglas County leaders approve paid leave for all employees not working under stay-at-home order
photo by: Dylan Lysen
Douglas County leaders have decided to provide paid leave for county employees not working because of the coronavirus outbreak, saying it was the right thing to do even if it would impact the county’s budget.
As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted 3-0 to approve a proposal to pay employees regardless of whether they must report to work under the stay-at-home order issued by local health officials in response to the virus. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told commissioners that to continue paying all employees during the order instead of furloughing nonessential workers would affect the county’s budget, but by precisely how much was currently unknown.
“It will come at a significant cost to our organization that we can’t really define at this point because we don’t know how long this will continue, but we think it’s the right thing to do,” Plinsky said.
Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health issued a stay-at-home order closing all businesses and functions that are deemed nonessential. The order, which began Tuesday and will remain in place through at least April 23, also requires residents to stay at home except for certain essential tasks. In response, county department heads identified essential and nonessential staff, the latter of whom will be put on administrative leave with pay for the duration of the shutdown under the plan, according to a county agenda report.
Plinsky did not provide the commission specifics regarding how many employees were identified as nonessential or were not working their full hours due to the order, but said the county is close to having an operations plan that will be shared publicly. The county has about 400 employees, and Plinsky did say a “large amount” of essential workers are still performing their job duties in the community and are not affected by the order. Others, she said, are working from home or are being set up to work from home soon.
In addition to providing paid leave for nonessential employees who are not able to work from home, Plinsky said the paid administrative leave could also be used by nonessential employees who were able to do some work from home but not enough to work their full schedule.
One effect of the coronavirus outbreak will likely be a hit to the budgets of governments that rely partially on sales tax collections. However, commissioners agreed that paying those employees who couldn’t work their full hours — or at all — was the correct action to take.
Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said the county government is a huge organization and the fourth-largest employer in Douglas County. He said it was important to keep people in their jobs and not have to furlough workers, even if there was a cost to doing so.
“We are going to have to make tough decisions at budget time,” Kelly said.
The commission also approved an update to a COVID-19 pay policy it approved last week. The update takes into account new legislation, called the Families First Coronavirus Act, that President Donald Trump signed into law following the commission’s policy adoption. Human Resources Manager Michelle Spreer told the commission that while the policy included many of the act’s provisions, there were some updates needed the Family and Medical Leave Act policies due to the new legislation.
During the work session portion of its meeting, the commission also received an update on the ongoing behavioral health housing project. Leaders from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority provided commissioners an update regarding efforts to develop the programmatic and financial operating plans for the projects currently under construction.
In other business, the commission voted unanimously to renew a conditional use permit for truck storage for Jayhawk Excavating at 1724 North 780 Road.
More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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