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story.lead_photo.caption North Little Rock City Hall at 300 Main St. is shown in this 2020 file photo. - Photo by Stephen Simpson

The North Little Rock City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday that will expand sick leave benefits for city employees in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

The ordinance states the number of covid-19 cases among city employees has increased dramatically over the past several weeks and that it is in the city's best interest to offer paid leave to employees impacted by the disease to ensure continuity of operations and minimize workplace exposure.

Danny Bradley, chief of staff for Mayor Terry Hartwick, said that over the past two months there have been more positive cases among city employees than at any time during the pandemic.

"We have had 12 positive cases in the Police Department, and we have had a number of exposures in the Fire Department," he said. "Today we learned we had five positive cases in the main [fire] station. Others are being tested now."

Bradley said if a city employee contracts covid-19 while on duty the employee will be eligible for workers' compensation. He said employees who can establish they contracted or were exposed to the virus while on the job will be granted paid "injured on duty" leave for a required duration of absence for recovery or quarantine.

Council Member Maurice Taylor asked how it's possible to prove an employee contracted covid-19 while on the job.

Bradley said workers' compensation will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and that proof must be found the employee came into contact with the disease while on duty.

"For example, if a firefighter has to treat a covid positive patient, then it's presumed they caught it from that person," he said. "Also we had an incident at the Police Department where a number of investigators came into contact with covid-19, but it came from an investigator outside of the building while they were working on a major investigation with other departments. It varies case by case."

City Attorney Amy Fields also mentioned a situation where an employee was forced to quarantine because she was in contact with another city employee who had contracted covid-19. She said the employee wasn't diagnosed with the disease but was still required to quarantine because of the contact.

Employees under quarantine but not ill must telework if possible within the employee's job duties and responsibilities, according to the ordinance.

Full-time employees will be eligible for up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave. Full-time Fire Department employees on 24-hour shifts are eligible for 120 hours of leave. Part-time workers are eligible for emergency paid sick leave for the average number of hours worked in any two-week period over the past four-week period.

Provisions for emergency sick leave will be effective through June 30.

Bradley said the goal of the ordinance is to make sure employees don't go to work sick and infect others.

"It could get to the point where it could affect provided services," he said. "This is to prevent workplace spreading of the virus."

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act that was passed by Congress in April mandating expanded paid sick leave for employees directly impacted by covid-19 expired on Dec. 31.

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division administered and enforced the law's paid leave requirements.

The ordinance was passed during a time when the number of people hospitalized in Arkansas with coronavirus as well as the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs.

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