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Ward County tables COVID-19 employee leave options

Ward County tables COVID-19 employee policy

Ward County’s paid employee leave policy for COVID-19 will remain suspended as county commissioners consider what type of policy, if any, they want to put in place going forward.

The Ward County Commission originally adopted a policy that ran from April 1 through December 2020, granting special paid employee leave as required by Congress. Congress did not extend the requirement but provided tax credits to businesses that continued the policy in 2021.

Ward County continued the emergency paid sick leave portion of its policy through March 31, although tax credits were not available to political subdivisions. The county allowed employees to carry over any unused leave from 2020 into 2021.

Since then, the American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law that provides for tax credits to political subdivisions in the form of credits for the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes on COVID-19 leave pay through Sept. 30. Employees’ future benefits through Social Security and Medicare would not be affected.

Ward County Human Resources Director Tammy Terras explained the new law resets leave for all employees at 80 hours and adds purposes for which leave can be taken. For instance, employees can take leave to be vaccinated or while awaiting test results.

Terras presented the commission with the options of extending the policy that expired March 31, adopting an updated policy based on the federal law or taking no action and letting the extra leave expire.

Commissioner John Pietsch questioned the need for COVID-19 leave.

“It doesn’t look like a whole lot of activity anymore,” he said.

Statistics provided by the Human Resources Department showed the county granted 441 hours of COVID-19 leave from January through March, paying out $9,524 in leave wages. Commissioner Shelly Weppler noted that is just over 55 eight-hour days. However, Commissioner John Fjeldahl pointed out that is only around five employees, based on the 10 to 14 days typically taken for illness or quarantine.

In 2020, Ward County paid about $137,000 toward COVID-19 leave for about 5,100 hours of absence. There were 40 positive COVID-19 cases.

The commission voted to table the matter for two weeks to allow Terras to prepare and bring back a revised policy that meets the federal law and allows for the tax credit. Commissioners plan to review that document before making a decision about how to proceed.

The commission also voted 3-2 to adopt American Rescue Plan Act guidelines that increase the amount of tax-free dollars employees can spend from a flexible savings account on child care.

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