For the first time since 2014, full-time employees with James City County can now accumulate sick leave hours.
Starting July 1, county’s benefits would allow full-time employees registered for the Virginia Retirement System’s Hybrid plan, part-time regular and limited term positions of 1,040 or more annual authorized hours that were hired after 2014, to be eligible to earn sick leave based on their annual authorized hours of work, said Patrick Teague, director of human resources.
Teague said prior to 2014 the Virginia Retirement System had two retirement plans of varying benefits but in 2014 a hybrid plan was adopted that didn’t require sick leave to be granted. Instead, employees would use their accumulated paid time off if they needed to stay home from work because of illness.
“Sick leave is completely separate from paid time off,” Teague said. “How it’s set up with VRS, the tradition folks were on plan one and plan two and all received traditional sick leave. But when they introduced the hybrid program, they introduced the paid time off category so [most new staff] did not accumulate any sick leave since 2014, just paid time off.”
But using paid time off for sick leave can become a problem.
“A common perception is paid time off can be used for vacation or other needs,” Teague said. “So if you’re saving up for a two-week cruise, you might be less likely to use that time if you feel sick.”
While the move is occurring during a pandemic, Teague said the coronavirus did not actually inspire the change.
“It was fairly fortuitous timing,” he said. “It’s more of a coincidence than intentional, but it gives us another tool to support staff when they’re not feeling well.”
He said when County Administrator Scott Stevens started with the county in 2018, Stevens talked to employees to see what improvements to benefits could be made.
And many of them wanted sick leave.
“This seemed to be a fairly consistent piece of feedback he was hearing,” Teague said. “Folks with paid time off felt they wanted a fair amount of leave.”
The change was made to make employment with the county more competitive as compared to other surrounding localities.
The discussion and decisions for the change happened in various ways, Teague said. The county first compared and researched what other localities were offering and then used a benefit consulting service to review the county’s current benefits and provide options.
“We found many of our competitors were offering sick leave in addition to [paid time off] and this allows the employee to attend to a sick family member or themselves, without having to use only [paid time off],” Teague added in an email.
However, Teague said there are more restrictions with sick leave than with paid time off. For example, sick leave is not something that can be requested weeks in advance unless it’s for something like a scheduled surgery.
The county also increased the annual carryover paid time off from 12 months accrual to 18 months accrual and added a floating holiday, which would make the county’s total number of holidays more competitive.
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