Engineer releases employee after sick leave expires
By RON SELAK JR.
WARREN – The Trumbull County Engineer’s Office employee who sought to use sick time donated by a co-worker after she exhausted all her time off for cancer treatment has been fired.
Assistant personnel director Nancy Guerini was notified by a letter sent Friday that she had been removed from the office’s payroll logs, effectively terminating her employment.
Engineer Randy Smith, who did not provide a copy of the letter Tuesday because it might contain sensitive health information, said he believes Guerini has abandoned the position. He said she did not respond to several attempts to discuss her status.
Smith said the last time leave was approved for Guerini was Jan. 7.
”I’m definitely worried about her well-being, but at the same time, I can’t have an employee be basically AWOL for six months and not communicate with us,” Smith said.
Guerini, diagnosed with cancer in 2011, admitted the office attempted to speak with her. She said she returned telephone calls made to her and left messages for her boss, one of Smith’s top aides, Herb Laukhart, director of finance and personnel.
”They haven’t called me back. That’s where I’m at,” said Guerini, who estimates she made five return calls.
Smith said Guerini was called four times in February and finally after not connecting, the first letter was sent certified mail on March 25. It asked about her status and explaining she needed to apply for additional unpaid leave, Smith said.
Smith didn’t provide a copy of this letter, either, saying like the latest letter sent to Guerini, it might contain sensitive health information and he needed legal clearance to release it.
Follow-up letters were sent April 18 by regular mail, and on May 15, the office followed up with a letter delivered by a courier. Both letters released by Smith ask Guerini to contact the office.
Guerini said she’s been unable to return to work because of radiation treatment for the cancer that spread to her brain. She said she is now in ”maintenance treatment,” which means her cancer is status-quo.
”It’s not getting any better, it’s not getting any worse,” said Guerini, who says she’s been taken off chemotherapy treatment, but still takes intravenous medicine.
”This is good news,” Guerini said. ”The cancer in the liver has almost cleared up. They feel the that the cancer in the brain, they’ve pretty much gotten it, but I still have to go every six weeks to be monitored for that.”
Guerini said she recently returned from staying with her sister in Alabama, where she was for about two weeks because her family believed she needed an escape from ”the too much drama going on.”
She said she intends to challenge the termination.
Her situation caused county officials, including commissioners, to examine and then implement policy setting employee guidelines for the donation of sick and vacation time.
After Guerini had used up her time off, including unpaid Family Medical Leave Act time, she sought to use sick hours donated by a co-worker, but Smith didn’t allow it, saying he couldn’t because the office didn’t have a policy and commissioners didn’t have a policy in writing.
Sick time has been donated among employees in the past, but commissioners didn’t adopt a formal policy until September. There have been time-sharing agreements in three union contracts as well as the county sheriff’s office, since 2002.
Still, questions lingered, and Ohio’s attorney general’s office was brought in to provide an opinion.
Among the conclusions: Commissioners can create individual leave donation programs for different county agencies, but those rules can be overrode by a collective bargaining agreement if they conflict with contracts that also have rules for employees to donate time.
The state also concluded the policy put into place by commissioners cannot let an employee use donated leave for time taken off before the policy was approved and lets other elected county-level officials create their own leave donation policy. And if the latter is the case, those policies ”may be more, but not less generous,” than the program created by commissioners.