Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Burns Harbor tightens time off policy for town workers

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Burns Harbor Town Council members agreed to leave discretion to department heads when it comes to granting employees unpaid days off, but the existing policy was tightened Monday.

Eight employees attended the special meeting called to discuss the current practice of allowing full-time employees time off without pay as long as a part-time employee can be called in to replace the absent employee. Department head approval is needed.

The policy is over and above vacation/personal days and compensatory time off which ideally should be used first.

Is going to a Cubs game, fishing or another leisure pursuit a valid reason to ask for an excused absence? Is a canceled plane flight, or an illness in the family?

On a 3-0 vote with members Toni Biancardi and Jim McGee absent, the council agreed to allow employees of the town a maximum three personal days off without pay in one calendar year with at least 24 hours notice and approval of the respective department head.

Also, the absence must be covered at no additional cost to the town; no employee could work overtime to replace the absent worker.

Any absences covered under state and federal laws would be honored as required in the Burns Harbor employee manual.

Councilman Mike Perrine said the concern is that as the town gets bigger and busier, the previous policy needed to be tightened.

Councilman Louis Bain said department heads need to be aware if a pattern of employee absenteeism is developing that shouldn't be rewarded, and that even if a full-time employee isn't on duty the town still is paying toward their benefits.

At issue was five days off an employee was allowed to take. Town marshal Jerry Price called it a one-time occurrence that does not constitute a pattern. Last year his four officers only used one sick day, he noted.

"It's not a rampant, ongoing thing," Price said of granting unpaid days off. "It's happened over the years but (department heads) can take care of it. Let us have the opportunity and deal with it in our hands if it's deemed to be problematic."

Discussed was whether an employee should have to demonstrate an emergency, or be allowed to request an absence with no questions asked.

Building commissioner Bill Arney, a long-time town firefighter who also serves as fire chief and sanitation superintendent, said what's an emergency to one family may not be to another.

"I've seen a lot of micro-managing (by previous councils) and you don't do that," Arney told members present. "You believe in your department heads. I'd like to see that continue."

Councilman Cliff Fleming told employees, "As the town grows, you become the faces of the town; you portray a positive image. You also have lives to lead. We have to be human but everybody should be accountable. If you have the flu 42 times a year, credibility is gone."

Added Perrine, "The employees work well for the town and give us our money's worth. We just want to prevent something from getting out of control and becoming a major issue."

In other business the council set a brief public meeting for Thursday at 5 p.m. for the purpose of adjusting the 2010 budget as required under the recently received Indiana Department of Local Government Finance budget order.

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the order is "super early. In a good year we get it in February."

The council also set a closed executive session for 5:15 p.m. Thursday for initiation of litigation or litigation which is pending or has been threatened specifically in writing. At 6 p.m. that night, also in executive session, the council will interview candidates for the post of zoning secretary.

Jordan and Fleming agreed to compare billing invoices from former town zoning consultant SEH Inc. with the firm's 2009 contract. A difference of opinion has arisen over whether outstanding money is due.



Posted 1/26/2008




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