Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, thwarted three weeks ago in curbingcounty supervisors who handle sick leave abuse, said this week he is"outraged" by a memo that appears to widen those powers.
The Jan.11 memo has prompted Gray to consider reintroducing a bill that would limit supervisors' demands for doctors' notes from employees to prove illnesses. The council rejected the bill Jan. 7 by a 3-2 vote.
The new memo, appearing four days after the vote, was issued by public works director James M. Irvin. Abuse may be occurring, Irvin wrote to his bureau chiefs, if an employee habitually takes more than 6.5 days of sick leave a year, or has a pattern of calling in sick on a Monday, a Friday, or on the day before or after a holiday.
Four incidents in a six-month period "can be grounds for placing an employee on a doctor's note requirement" for every future absence, Irving wrote. A supervisor may also take "necessary disciplinary action" for a single occurrence such as calling in sick on a day for which the employee was denied vacation time.
Irvin said an employee's use of sick leave is to be evaluated every six months and become part of the employee's annual review process.
Gray, D-3rd, said he has problems with the timing and content of Irvin's memo. Since the county charter does not require a doctor's excuse unless employees are absent three or more consecutive days, supervisors who require a doctor's note every time an employee calls in sick are in error, Gray says.
Graysought three weeks ago to make his interpretation of the charter part of county law. Despite support from the 300-member union of county blue collar workers, Gray's bill to bar supervisors from demanding doctors' notes for absences of less than three consecutive days, was opposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the citizen board thatreviews employee appeals.
When the measure came up for a vote earlier this month, only Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, voted with Gray.
"I'm livid," Gray said, adding that he is considering reintroducing the bill Feb. 4, the next council legislative session. He said he will not reintroduce it unless he has the votes to pass it. Getting them won't be easy. Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, thinks the county is already too lax about absences and is unlikely to change his vote.
Neither is Darrel Drown, R-2nd, who opposed Gray's bill initially because he believes it would "create unnecessary problems" by taking away the discretionary powers of supervisors.
Paul R. Farragut, D-4, who earlier found the personnel board's arguments against the bill compelling, said he was unaware of the memo and that Gray hasn't spoken with him yet about reintroducing the bill.
Irvin seemed surprised that his memo had drawn Gray's ire. He said he thought the memo was mainly "consistent with Gray's bill, though we may disagree on the threshold" -- the point at which the policy takes effect.
Irvin said his memo only reiterates what has been county policy for many years. Its purpose, he said, was to ensure that the policy was interpreted and applied the same way by everyone in the public works department, laborers and professional people alike.
That the memo was circulated at the end of the same week that Gray's bill failed was merely coincidence, Irvin said.