JeffCo Commission Picks Up Where Feds Left Off, Will Pay for COVID Time Off

Jefferson County’s county attorney, Theo Lawson. (Photo by: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Today, Jefferson County picked up where the federal government left off, covering the cost of employees taking off because they’ve been exposed to or contracted the novel coronavirus.

Following its committee meeting today, commissioners reconvened their Jan. 7 commission meeting to retroactively extend what had been provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the reconvened meeting was needed because this is payroll week for the county.

“It allows them not to skip anything,” he said. “It allows things to move seamlessly.”

Said County Manager Tony Petelos: “We don’t want to have that void from January 1. It’s going to create problems for us.”

Commissioners unanimously approved what they called the Jefferson County Coronavirus Response Leave Program. It is funded through the county’s general fund through March 31.

Petelos said the federal program was put in place last year and expired Dec. 31. “We want to extend that program using our county funds … . The problem that we’re having is we don’t want employees showing up at work that may have coronavirus, or we have folks that we have to send home because they’re quarantined. It covers those people up to 10 working days.”

Commissioner Lashunda Scales asked whether employees will be paid for the COVID time off. County attorney Theo Lawson said yes.

“We are starting our own (program) because it’s no longer a federal mandate,” Lawson said. “But they (federal officials) allow municipalities and entities to voluntarily initiate the program. This is now the county’s own program if you have a positive diagnosis, or if you are quarantined.

“You have that additional 10 days and that is outside of any of your Family Medical Leave Act, or the previous federal mandates,” the attorney said.

Scales asked how much of the general fund was being allotted for COVID time off. Petelos said that is unknown.

“We’ve had over 100 people who’ve had the virus and we’ve had to quarantine a lot of people,” he said. “We have a process in place where if somebody says, ‘I think I’ve been exposed,’ then we go through that process, making sure they’re quarantined and they stay away from the office.”

Said Scales: “There’s no new precedent. We’ve got a model; we’ve just got a different funding source.”

Lawson said the federal government didn’t provide funds for COVID-related time off for employees in the most recent relief package. “We just want to make sure that we don’t get in a situation from a risk management perspective where you have people that don’t feel that they have the time and don’t give full disclosure,” he said.

Petelos said federal funds for COVID-related time off could be on the way.

“Congress is looking at it. The president-elect coming in is looking at it,” he said. “We don’t know what the package will look like but we’re going to go ahead and do this and if that funding comes through, that will be in place.”

Thursday’s meeting of the Jefferson County Commission will be at 9 a.m. at the courthouse in Bessemer.