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FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County officials will seek to change how employees get and use vacation and sick leave, justices of the peace decided during a Quorum Court meeting Thursday.

The move is meant to help employees take care of family members not considered immediate under the Family and Medical Leave Act, justices of the peace said. The current county policy follows the federal law for leave to care for family members, said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison, a Democrat representing northeastern Fayetteville.

Immediate family members are defined as a spouse, a child or a parent in the current policy.

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Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, a Democrat representing southern Washington County, said the county must change the policy so other close family members can care for each other. Harbison co-sponsored an ordinance to change the leave policy after learning about an employee who couldn't use his sick leave to care for his dying brother, she said.

"This is about extreme situations," Harbison said about the change. "I just want something in place that can take care of extenuating circumstances."

But, some justices of the peace said the proposed measure had muddled language and created a burden on elected officials and Human Resource staff. The county should look into changing from categorized leave to allocating time off, Madison said.

Employees could take paid time off without having to explain, justices of the peace said. That system would be fairer, said Justice of the Peace Joel Maxwell, a Republican representing western Washington County. Elected officials wouldn't have to decide on emergencies, and employees wouldn't have to deal with differing opinions on what constitutes "extended family," Maxwell said.

"To me, simpler answers are better, and that's why I suggested it," he said.

Harbison withdrew her ordinance in favor of investigating paid time off. More counties are moving to that approach, anyway, said Justice of the Peace Lisa Ecke, a Republican representing southeastern Springdale. Ecke is in talks with Human Resource Director Michael Watson about the issue, she said.

Paid time off may be the best answer, but it does have some drawbacks, said Justice of the Peace Daniel Balls, a Democrat representing northern Fayetteville.

For example, companies using paid time off instead of vacation days don't have to pay out vacation days when an employee resigns, Balls said. Currently, companies pay out accrued vacation time when an employee leaves, he said.

NW News on 10/20/2017

Print Headline: County officials eye change to sick leave policy

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