The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 22, 2020 1:00 am

Bonus pay for some county workers OK'd

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Some Allen County employees will receive additional pay for work performed while government buildings were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, following approval Thursday from the County Council.

In a 6-1 vote, the council approved two salary ordinances providing supplemental pandemic pay to some county workers and a bonus for salaried Allen County Department of Health employees who have been working long hours responding to the pandemic.

The Allen County commissioners approved the policy in April. 

The supplemental pandemic pay would be available for employees who have been working and have had frequent direct physical contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms or those who are seeking diagnosis, said Charity Murphy, county human resources director. The policy also applies to county workers who are in regular, unavoidable contact with the public or are working in 24-hour operations that deal with the public for the majority of their shift.

Eligible employees will receive an additional $2.50 per hour for time worked between March 16 and May 17. Those funds will be paid out as a single lump-sum bonus, Murphy said, adding that the exact amount would depend on the hours an employee worked during that period. 

It's hard to give a clear estimate for how much the policy will cost the county, Murphy said, because department heads might identify additional employees who they think qualify for additional pay. When prompted by Councilman Tom Harris, R-2nd, Murphy said she estimates the policy will cost about $32,000 for the Youth Services Center; $56,700 for sworn officers at the Allen County sheriff's office; $126,000 for confinement officers at the Allen County Jail; $77,400 for Allen County Juvenile Center workers; and $10,000 for health department employees.

Allen Superior Court Judge Andrea Trevino supported the policy and noted that “a large portion” of the county's workforce had to be at work, facing risks and helping officials create better policy for when county buildings reopened to the public and as other employees return to their jobs. 

“Myself, the sheriff and numerous other departments, who aren't here but who may make claims under this, had folks working every minute, working in these circumstances and going home to their families who are probably just as scared to have them home,” she said, adding that the policy is a small gesture to county workers in appreciation of their service. 

Employees ineligible for the supplemental pay “would be those who have infrequent contact with the public or those who were able to limit their exposure through safety measures, social distancing or changes in the way departments perform their duties,” Murphy said.

Councilman Ken Fries, R-at large, said he thinks the policy doesn't go far enough.

“I know there were a lot of county employees who got 75% of their pay, 100% of their pay. They stayed home while we still had county employees who were going out and working every day,” he said. “I don't think it makes those employees that went out and dealt with the public, dealt with the virus, I don't think it makes them whole, compared to the other employees that still got paid.”

Councilman Joel Benz, R-3rd, opposed the ordinance. Benz, who is a paramedic, acknowledged that some county employees did put themselves at risk and “did an outstanding job.” However, he said he feels the council's job is to be a responsible gatekeeper for the county's finances. 

“For us to just spend funds, even as a thank you, I just think is a poor choice for us as a council ...,” Benz said.  “If we're going to spend money on something, I would like us to spend money on (personal protective equipment) so that those individuals who are in contact are protected, rather than give them just a, 'Hey, thank you for working through the pandemic.'”

The second ordinance approved Thursday provides some county health department workers time-and-a-half for hours beyond the typical 40-hour week between March 6 and May 17. Those workers are usually exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standard Act, Murphy said, stressing that the request “is for those exempt employees who were working an extraordinary number of hours.” 

She used Mindy Waldron, the health department administrator, as an example. 

“I literally think she may have lived in her office for a while and the amount of work that she, Dr. (Deborah) McMahan and some of her exempt staff had to do, it was just extraordinary,” Murphy said. “It wasn't just that they were working more hours, it was that those hours were due to the public health response ... and many times they were also putting themselves in harm's way, putting themselves at risk going out into the public.” 

The extra funds will be paid out in a lump-sum bonus.

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