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Dunn County voluntarily extending emergency paid sick leave for those vaccinated against COVID-19

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  The Dunn County Board’s Committee on Administration has approved amending several temporary policies and procedures for county employees related to COVID-19, including voluntarily extending emergency paid sick leave for vaccinated individuals.

The Committee on Administration in April approved extending several temporary policies and procedures until September 30 following the release of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which also gave employers the ability to voluntarily provided emergency paid sick leave, said Heather Murray, Dunn County human resources director, at the Committee on Administration’s September 23 meeting.

Murray said she thought the county would receive additional guidance related to ARPA since it was set to expire on September 30, but the county did not receive any additional guidance.

Because of the recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases, Murray said she was not recommending that the county allow all of the temporary policies and procedures to expire and to extend certain policies until December 31.

One of Murray’s recommendations was to clarify the responsibilities of the human resources department to work with departments who have employees exposed to COVID-19, who have tested positive or are experiencing symptoms, so that human resources conducts all of the contact tracing and establishes return to work dates.

If human resources does the contact tracing, that will assist the Dunn County Health Department, she said.

Paid sick leave

Another recommendation was for Dunn County to voluntarily provide paid sick leave, up to a maximum of 80 hours, from October 1 until December 31 for employees who are receiving the vaccine and are experiencing side effects or for employees who are fully vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19.

Providing up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for those with side effects from the vaccine or for those who test positive after receiving the vaccine will help provide an incentive for employees to get vaccinated, which will help reduce COVID-19 in Dunn County, Murray said.

Quarantine

Regarding paid sick leave for employees who are caring for an individual subject to a government quarantine or isolation, Murray recommended removing the paid sick leave from the county’s temporary policies and procedures.

Since ARPA is expiring, scaling back on certain areas will help keep the policies and procedures manageable, she said.

In addition, the majority of the Dunn County workforce has the ability to work from home, and to date, the county has not seen a high use of this particular provision, Murray said.

Daycare or school 

If county employees have children in a daycare or a school that has been closed due to COVID-19, Murray recommended that Dunn County continue to voluntarily provide paid sick leave to care for children.

Murray also recommended that Dunn County modify the temporary policy to require those who are not vaccinated to use their available leave time as per the county’s employee handbook.

With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, Murray said she was afraid schools would close down and mentioned a school in Eau Claire that had closed because more than 50 percent of the students were in quarantine.

Donating sick leave

Another recommendation was to remove the ability of employees to have a “negative” leave balance and to remove the ability to donate up to 40 hours of accumulated leave time related to COVID-19.

The normal leave donation policy will be used if an employee chooses to use the program, Murray said.

Part-time employees, on the other hand, will still be able to request donated leave time for work missed because of receiving the vaccine or for work missed because of COVID-19 reasons contained in the policy, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements, she said.

Number of cases

While Dunn County established a policy for employees to return to work in county buildings based on the number of  COVID-19 cases in the county, there was no provision for returning to remote work if the COVID-19 cases increased again, Murray said.

Murray recommended amending the policy to include returning to remote work based on the number of cases of COVID-19 per day or the positivity rate.

COVID-19 tests

The final amendment to the temporary policies and procedures was to add Dunn County’s right to require employees to obtain a COVID-19 test and provide the test results to the human resources division.

There could be different situations where an entire work group should be tested, Murray said.

The COVID-19 test results will be treated as medical documents and will be kept in the employee’s human resources file, she said.

The proposed changes provide incentives for people to get vaccinated, show appreciation for those who are vaccinated and provide support to those employees who are vaccinated and become ill with COVID-19, Murray said.

Mandate

David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, asked for clarification on whether Dunn County is mandating that employees be vaccinated.

Dunn County is not mandating vaccination, said Paul Miller, county manager.

Is that because Dunn County is a municipality and does not fall under the mandate from the president of the United States? Bartlett asked.

Whether Dunn County is exempt from the federal vaccine mandate has not been determined yet, Miller said.

One source says that Dunn County is not subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) mandate, although several departments are Medicaid recipients, and the vaccine mandate applies to facilities that receive Medicaid funds, he said.

Dunn County is still waiting for clarification, Miller said.

The proposed changes to the temporary policies and procedures are not about the mandate from the Biden administration. Dunn County is trying to incentivize employees to become vaccinated by paying up to 80 hours for vaccinated individuals but not for those who are not vaccinated, he said.

The proposed changes would end December 31, but the Dunn County Board meets in November, not in December, and does not meet until the middle of January, Bartlett said.

Perhaps the policy changes should be extended to the middle of January so if a spike in COVID-19 cases “is bad” there is no time lapse, he said.

Whether to change the policies and procedures is a decision made by the Committee on Administration and not by the full Dunn County Board, Miller said.

The Committee on Administration will meet the first week in December, so the temporary policies could be amended before December 31, he said.

The Committee on Administration unanimously approved the proposed changes to the temporary policies and procedures that will expire December 31 unless they are extended.

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