Co-workers rally around patient Colleagues donate unused sick leave

September 13, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Tom Jones never thought he'd have to leave his job with Harford County at this point in his life. But then the 56-year-old Public Works employee never expected to suffer a stroke.

He's just glad that when misfortune struck, he had the support of his fellow workers.

That support blossomed this summer when members of the county Highways Maintenance Division learned that Mr. Jones was permanently disabled by the stroke and wouldn't be able to return to his job.

They pooled their personal sick leave and donated nearly 400 hours of leave to keep him on the county payroll until he becomes eligible for other financial assistance.

"They're just a super bunch. I don't know what I'd do without them," says Mr. Jones, who lives in Havre de Grace and worked out of the second maintenance district in Aldino.

Mr. Jones had been a heavy equipment operator with the county for 10 years when he suffered a severe stroke in March.

He was out of work for more than three months and had used up almost all of his accumulated sick time when he returned to his job in July.

But after three weeks, he said, he realized he couldn't resume his previous pace, and he left again, with just six days of sick leave remaining.

Now he has applied for disability retirement benefits from the state on the advice of his doctors, who say his irreversible neurological damage makes handling heavy equipment impossible. He was told it can take from four to six months to process his disability application.

That's when his co-workers came up with the idea of donating sick leave.

A recently instituted policy in county government allows employees to transfer their accrued personal sick days to another person's sick leave account, with some qualifications.

Highway workers began accumulating a fund for Mr. Jones.

To date, 26 people have donated a total of 370 hours to his account.

Used sparingly, that should keep him on the payroll, with his health insurance intact, for at least four months, said Leseen Auker, a management assistant in the highways division who is organizing the fund.

Most contributors gave several days and three people donated an entire week, she said, "and we've had plenty of people say they'll give more if he needs it."

"He is the kind of person that appreciates anything you do for him," said Ms. Auker. "He's very well-liked."

Workers donating to Mr. Jones' fund are giving not just sick days but also a portion of their potential retirement fund.

County employees, who have no limit on the amount of sick leave they can accumulate during their tenure, are financially compensated for all unused sick leave when they retire.

Yet the new policy has been well received, said Randy Schultz, director of Human Resources for Harford County.

"We've been doing it about three months now, and the response has been incredible," he said.

He says that five other county employees have taken advantage of the new policy, but none has received donations to the extent of Mr. Jones.

The donated time is especially important now, said Mr. Jones, because his wife, Mary Lee, is also unemployed.

She had worked for Gleneagles for 28 years before the clothing manufacturer closed its sewing factory in Bel Air this year.

L "I'm so thankful and appreciative of these people," he said.

"To keep you going like this for a couple of months -- it really means a lot to me."

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