Trumbull County Highway Engineer Randy Smith's objection to a sick leave donation policy is now in the hands of the Ohio attorney general. However, Attorney General Mike DeWine's office might not address many of the specific issues that Smith raised.
That would be unfortunate because a potentially significant amount of taxpayer money is involved, and the issue applies to every public employer.
The matter came to light when Smith employee Nancy Guerini sought to use sick time donated by a coworker. Guerini exhausted her vacation, sick and unpaid Family Medical Leave Act time for cancer treatment.
A coworker offered in writing to donate 300 hours to Guerini, who asked for a leave of absence from the job she started in January 2010.
Smith denied the donation because neither the highway engineer's office nor Trumbull County commissioners had a donation policy. Smith expressed his desire to grant donations to Guerini retroactively after creating a policy.
Trumbull County commissioners quickly enacted a sick leave policy. However, that policy contains the following flaws:
Employees could donate sick time that they would never be able to cash out. For example, one worker in Smith's department has more than 2,600 hours of unused sick time. Upon retirement, he may cash out 864 hours. The sick leave donation policy allows him to donate the remaining 1,736 or more hours, an expense that taxpayers would not have otherwise incurred.
A supervisor may donate to a subordinate and vice versa. This opens the door to a human resources nightmare as the appearance of favorable treatment in exchange for a donation could lead to costly unfair labor lawsuits.
Workers can donate sick time so a co-worker can care for a relative. The Family Medical Leave Act already provides provisions for the care of loved-ones. Employees should only be able to use and donate sick time if they are sick.
Employees of one employer, say the elected recorder, could donate to employees of another employer, say the elected engineer who may have a considerably different pay scale and union rules.
Smith and Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere want to use leave donation policies separate from the commissioners'. Good for them, since it's important to avoid the above flaws.
Trumbull County prosecutor Dennis Watkins asked the DeWine's office for an opinion on whether elected offices can adopt policies independent of commissioners and if donations can be applied retroactively. Hopefully the attorney general takes this a step further and addresses the above flaws. They are the crux of the matter and can greatly impact every public employer.
Meanwhile, we disagree with Smith on one point. He has prevented donations to Guerini until this matter is resolved because, ''The position of county engineer is considered to be a creature of statute. The engineer has only the duties and power expressly granted therein. No authority exists for actions taken outside of the written statute.''
Allowing employees to donate sick time to needy colleagues is a wonderful, humanitarian benefit. Minus anything in writing that prevents the donation Smith should allow it, provided it avoids the flaws mentioned above.