Jan 15, 2015

How can we stop employees from abusing sick time, county officials wonder

Sick and tired of what they believe are certain employees abusing sick leave, Park County officials are mulling changes to employee benefits.

County commissioners, who set the county’s personnel policies, indicated a willingness to spend the next couple months studying possible ways to curb abuse. Under the options discussed at a Jan. 6 meeting, employees might be able to convert some of their sick leave to either personal time or a cash payment when they retire — if they accumulate a certain amount of sick time first.

Park County Assessor Pat Meyer said most governments provide some kind of incentive.

“I kind of think we should do something to reward people that don’t abuse it,” Commissioner Bucky Hall said during a discussion of the topic last month — though not everyone felt that way.

“It just goes against my grain to reward people for doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.

County officials are wondering how to deal with employee abuse of sick time. File photo courtesy Claus Rebler, released under CC BY SA 2.0
However, all the commissioners agreed last week that it was worth looking at changes.

“I think if we fix the system, we’re going to find our employees are remarkably healthy all of a sudden,” Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric predicted during last month’s discussion.

Skoric guessed that around 25 percent — or one out of four — county sick days were illegitimate, but
“it’s hard to call them on it. What are you supposed to do?” He said employees can burn through their sick leave because they can always ask for others to donate time if they run out. Meanwhile, other employees leave the county with hundreds of unused hours.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward started the discussion about sick time, as he believes it’s “very evident” that around a half-dozen of his employees are abusing it. Both he and Skoric have said it’s unusual how many employees use call in sick on Monday or Fridays.

“Nobody gets sick two minutes before the shift,” Steward said last week. When those last-minute calls come in, “we’re then stuck paying people overtime and it’s a morale issue, because the guys who don’t abuse it are getting ticked — because they see it and there’s nothing we can do.

“How do you prove they’re not (sick)?” Steward asked rhetorically.

The sheriff actually answered that question roughly a year ago: when Steward suspected one employee was abusing sick time, he had them tailed by an unmarked vehicle. The employee was caught in downtown Cody and wasn’t employed by the county after that, he said. Steward said that incident cut down on the abuse for about six months, but other instances are “almost impossible to catch.”

“I think if we fix the system, we’re going to find our employees are remarkably healthy all of a sudden,” said Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.
Skoric noted last month that county supervisors can demand a doctor’s note for sick time, though Clerk of District Court Patra Lindenthal said she doesn’t really like that option.

“If you can’t trust your employees ... I think that’s like telling your employees you think they’re liars,” Lindenthal said.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said last week that there is an alternative to providing new incentives: “we make the issue of sick leave as a performance-related issue to employment.” In other words, an employee could be fired if they’re missing a lot of work.

Steward, meanwhile, suggested that whenever an employee asks for donated sick time, their name be disclosed to their co-workers. He said if some members of his department knew who was receiving their donated time, “they wouldn’t be donating.”

Skoric said he could provide an analysis as to whether sharing the employees name would be allowed under federal healthcare privacy laws.

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