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Leave situation could become ‘crisis’ for some state employees

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the state, a state employee group is asking for flexibility for workers who may have to quarantine.

The Alabama State Employees Association is asking state agencies and departments to be “as creative as they can in helping all state employees through this pandemic,” Executive Director Mac McArthur told Alabama Daily News.

“If this goes on for a while or gets worse, I would say this becomes a crisis issue for some of our members,” McArthur said.

If in another month the delta virus is still increasing cases and closing schools, “then I think our members will be looking to the administration (for assistance),” he said.

Alabama ranks fourth in the country for the most new COVID-19 cases per capita, the Associated Press reported this week. Alabama Daily News reported Tuesday on concerns about teachers in the state having to use their personal leave — and running out of it — if they have to temporarily exit the classroom because of a COVID case or exposure.

State employees, like veteran teachers, can rollover their unused leave time from year to year and cash it out when they retire.

There is no statewide COVID-related leave policy for state employees. 

State Personnel Director Jackie Graham said it was her agency’s understanding that most agencies are following CDC guidelines on exposure, diagnosis and related quarantine periods.

“Some agencies are requiring leave, other agencies are allowing telework, and others are using a hybrid approach,” Graham told Alabama Daily News. “We are aware of some agencies that have employees out due to COVID exposure and/or diagnosis and certainly this will hamper operations but not to the point of shutting things down.  Most agencies can shift employees and resources as needed.”

In March 2020, the start of the pandemic in Alabama, Ivey said state government agency directors should advise employees to work from home if possible. Employees were paid emergency leave and not required to utilize their personal leave.

Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola on Monday said she wasn’t aware that emergency leave would be an option now.

When employees run out of leave, “they fall off the payroll,” McArthur said.

“The biggest concern is the mother whose child’s school closes or their grade is being sent home to quarantine and she has no arrangement to keep the child,” McArthur said. “That puts a burden —  and I realize it’s not always the mother, but it’s disproportionately the mother that it falls to — on the state employee who can’t take endless amounts of leave.”

There are many state employee jobs that simply can’t be worked from home, McArthur said, including those in the corrections, transportation, public health and alcoholic beverage control departments.

“We’re starting to have a lot of a lot of the moms worried, as the cases are going up, folks are worried about the contact with the people they have just doing their jobs everyday,” he said.

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