The Ravalli County Commissioners decided to grant a variance or make an exception to its sick leave policy last week that Commission Chair Jeff Burrows said would pretty much have to become the rule. It had to do with extending the allowed number of hours of sick leave that an employee may take in the form of direct grants from co-workers within any 12-month period.
The county’s current policy restricts the number of hours of sick leave that any employee can take in direct grants in a 12-month period to 160 hours. But this limit came under scrutiny last week when Ravalli County Road Superintendent Dusty McKern asked them to make an exception in his regard. McKern is facing an upcoming surgery for a heart condition that, according to his doctor, could require up to three months for full recovery. He requested that he be allowed to take enough direct grants in sick leave to cover that period.
Human Resource Director Robert Jenni told the commission that the total sick leave required to meet the request would be about 504 hours. He said McKern had about 100 hours banked in sick leave and vacation time. He also stated that under his tenure no one had ever been granted a variance for using over 160 hours in direct grants. An employee accrues approximately a day of sick leave every month.
Commissioner Burrows said, “The only issue we have is that by granting that we might as well take the 160-hour limitation out of the policy. What I don’t want to do is sit here and say yes to one person’s disease and no to another person’s disease.”
Commissioner Chris Hoffman said he was uneasy as well since it puts the commission and the department head in the position of having to make decisions based on medical judgments they are not qualified to make.
Burrows said that he was willing to grant an exception but he was firm that it would mean changing the policy.
Hoffman agreed and made a motion to give the variance.
Chilcott asked if there was any limit to the variance.
Jenni suggested that one limit might be to set it at the maximum allowed under FMLA which is 12 weeks of absence with job protected leave. This could amount to 480 hours, according to Jenni.
The request for an exception was granted with the limit of 480 hours in any 12-month period.
Hoffman said he was sorry for dragging the whole discussion out but that it was no small thing for the county to commit to, “and I know it’s an even bigger thing for you,” he told McKern. “I wish you all the best.”