James City County covers a unique area, from the water, to the sand, to the historic sites, to the forest and farmland.
Because of its diversity, the county employs a vast array of people, such as park attendants, police officers, social workers and more. And, within that group of people, there are dozens of employees under numerous employment classifications, from seasonal to salaried full-time.
But after several years of employment, at least one employee’s complaint has illuminated an issue within the way part-time temporary employees are classified compared to regular part-time positions.
“When I found out there were some people who were [regular] part-time and getting benefits, and some other part-time who were not getting benefits — and that was only based on their “classification” and not duties — I was concerned,” said Scott Eklind, a park attendant at Freedom Park and temporary part-time employee.
Eklind said he first noticed something awry when he applied for another county position in December at the library. Its duties and hours were similar to his job at Freedom Park — but the library job received benefits.
Work to be done
County Administrator Scott Stevens, who was hired as the top administrator last fall, said there’s room for work to be done with the county’s job classifications and policies.
“If I was temporary and recognized somebody worked the same kind of schedule, similar hours and got paid time off, I would think that’s unfair, too,” Stevens said. “Those are the things we’re trying to work through to make sure we address all those issues.”
In James City County, there are three classifications for part-time employees: on-call pool, temporary part-time and regular part-time.
Pool employees are not scheduled per week, but are just available when a shift opens up. Temporary part-time employees are supposed to be either seasonal or have a particular job-end date. The regular part-time employees are eligible for some benefits such as paid time off and work at least 780 hours per year, or about 15 hours each week.
The problem lies with the employees in the temporary classification: Some of those temporary employees have been working for the county for several years without a specific job-end date, appearing much less “temporary.”
Eklind has been with the county about three years and, for much of his employment, worked more than 15 hours per week, like regular part-time workers. He was hired as a temporary worker and told he would not receive benefits.
“In all these years, nobody told us our positions had been renewed or anything like that,” Eklind said.
Finding a fix
There are a couple approaches to cleaning up the county’s human resources policies, Stevens said.
“We’re not trying to ignore it, it’s important to treat employees correctly,” he said. “There certainly hasn’t been any intentional misuse of employees in terms of misuse of employee time.”
Stevens does not have a particular resolution in the works yet because he plans to take changes to the Board of Supervisors for feedback and guidance over the next two or three months.
First, getting temporary employee contracts so they reflect the “temporary” nature of the position with an official end date would be one place to start, Stevens said.
“There’s a group of employees, probably about 40, that likely have been in this [temporary] classification for more than a year with no specific end date,” Stevens said. “In that regard, we need to clean up our policy or actions.”
Of those 40 employees, about half are working in Parks and Recreation like Eklind; others are scattered throughout various county departments. Those employees could receive an official end date on their current employment agreements, then come back to be rehired, or renew the contract with a new official end date.
Second, Stevens said he is unfamiliar with the hours-worked benchmark being so low — at 15 hours per week — for part-time employees to receive benefits. The federal benchmark for being eligible for employer-paid health insurance is 30 hours per week.
That benchmark may also be the subject of some evaluation or change.
“We need to ask if that’s the right threshold to be benefited part-time,” he said. “Is that 15-hour threshold a common thing in Virginia? I want us to be competitive.”
Even with possible changes coming down the pipeline in the next year, Eklind said he feels “exploited” and wants to be given a regular part-time position with benefits as the position is defined currently: at 15 hours per week. To him, changing the benchmark for receiving benefits as a regular part-time worker will not rectify his feelings.
There are a certain number of approved regular part-time positions in James City County departmental budgets, such as Parks and Recreation, Stevens said.
When a regular full-time or part-time position becomes available in the county, existing employees must apply if they are interested in moving into a permanent position.
The rest of the pay for on-call pool and temporary part-time employees comes from a pool of funding in the budget.
“Typically regular part-time employees get more than 780 hours per year, about 15 hours per week,” Stevens said. “If you work that many but are not regular part-time, it’s not an automatic to go from temporary part-time to regular part-time if you work that much.”
Stevens said pay for on-call and temporary part-time employees has also been something he’s working to improve.
“We haven’t done anything with raises for the first two classifications [or on-call and temporary part-time employees] for at least a few years,” Stevens said. “Philosophically, that’s a problem with [the Parks and Recreation director], and a problem for me.”
Stevens said the “bulk” of county employees received a 3-percent pay raise during the last budget season, while some part-time employees received a 1-percent raise.
He plans to continue working on pay increases to ensure certain employee classifications are not being excluded from pay raises.
“I didn’t want to rock the boat too quickly,” he said.