The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 13, 2013

Council finds remedy for sick leave policy

By Jean Cole

— A sick-leave policy that has been giving some Athens city officials a pain in the gut was set to be revised Tuesday by City Council members.

The meeting was ongoing at press time, but council members were expected to discuss and vote on revising the sick-leave section of the city's personnel policy and procedures manual.

The proposed changes include specifying that a sick day is an 8-hour day for all employees but firefighters, whose sick day would be 11 hours due to their long shifts. The proposed policy would also cap the number of total regular sick leave at 1,040 hours per employee. 

The changes were proposed, in part, after Mayor Ronnie Marks learned after taking office that some employees had accrued years of sick leave, including one former firefighter who had accrued 4.5 years of sick leave, which had to be paid out upon his retirement. Marks said in the past that the policy should have been revised years ago.

Fire Chief Tony Kirk has asked for a higher total accrued sick leave cap for his employees, one city official said Tuesday.

The proposed new policy, which would take effect Dec. 1, 2013, says all classified, unclassified and probationary employees would earn sick leave at the rate of one “8-hour” day for every full month worked for a total of 12 days or 96 hours per year. This changes the existing policy, which gave employees a day but did not specify an 8-hour day and made an exception for firefighters. Firefighters, many of whom work 24-hour shifts, had been earning a 24-hour day of sick leave in some cases rather than an 8-hour day of sick leave.

The City Council may enact a formula for dealing with long firefighter shifts, possibly allowing an 11-plus hour sick-leave day.

Sick-leave cap

The proposed policy would also enact a cap 1,040 total hours of regular sick leave for classified and unclassified employees. Hours beyond that would be forfeited. Employees who have already accrued more than that total would be grandfathered in. The hours exceeding 1,040 would be placed in a “grandfathered excess leave account” and valued at an employee's pay as of Dec. 1, 2013. This leave could not be used until regular sick leave was exhausted and only with approval of the supervisor, department head and mayor. In the past, employees who were retiring received credit for those additional sick leave hours at their final rate of pay rather than at the rate of pay they received when they accrued the leave.

Retirement, death benefit

Also under the proposed policy, Tier 1 employees — those hired before Jan. 1, 2013 or rehired after Jan. 1, 2013 — could receive pay for 1/8 of all accrued sick leave or convert all sick leave to retirement credit. In addition, 50 percent of regular sick leave — not to exceed 520 hours — could be paid as a death benefit to a beneficiary.

Grandfathered sick leave could not be used as a death benefit, however.

For more on Tuesday's City Council meeting, go online to on Wednesday or see Thursday's print edition of The News Courier.