VENICE — If you want an example of the law of unintended consequences, look no further than the city’s sick leave policy.
It was changed in 2013 so Venice would no longer be writing big checks to people who were leaving their job with hundreds of hours of unused sick time.
Longtime employees who let their sick leave accumulate could cash it in for thousands of dollars, Council Member Bob Daniels said.
The system that was put into place to prevent that pays 50% of the value of accrued time to anyone who was hired before Oct. 1, 1993; 25% to anyone hired between then and Oct. 1, 2013; and nothing to anyone hired later than that.
So what’s the unintended consequence? Actually, there are a couple.
One is that people are using their sick time instead of accruing it because that’s the only way to get full value for it, Mayor John Holic said.
“You don’t have to be a math genius to know you’re going to burn as much of your sick leave as you can if you’re only going to get 50% or 25% of it back when you retire or leave,” he said. “That puts a strain on the rest of the employees who aren’t calling in sick. So there is a shortcoming to what we’re doing right now.”
It’s aggravated by a city policy that allows employees to donate sick leave to coworkers who are out under the Family and Medical Leave Act. There’s no incentive to bank time if you can get it donated by fellow employees, he said.
“I don’t think that’s what sick leave is designed for,” Holic said.
Assistant City Manager Len Bramble said that the option to donate time was taken out when the sick leave policy was revised in 2013, then added back following what Director of Human Resources Alan Bullock described as an employee “uproar.”
“One of the things that people like about working in Venice is it’s kind of a family atmosphere,” Bullock said. “We take care of each other.”
That was when donating was linked to the FMLA, which requires an absence be certified by a medical provider, he said.
The other part of the problem is that there have been a few instances when someone who was leaving decided to use their accrued time to be gone before their actual departure date.
There’s not much the city can do about that, Bullock said, because the usual punishment Human Resources would dole out is essentially meaningless.
Bullock said he’s getting input from other cities on their sick leave policies and will bring the topic back for discussion. If it’s not on the Nov. 12 agenda, that means at least two new Council members will get to weigh in on it.
Council members Chuck Newsom and Mitzie Fiedler will be there, on opposite sides of donating sick time.
Newsom said his daughter, a teacher in Cleveland, has told him about donations of sick leave there and it seemed to him it’s being abused.
He’d never encountered in it 40 years in business, he said, and would never have it if it were up to him.
Fiedler, who spent more than 30 years in education, said she likes the option and had seen little abuse of it. It’s her preference, she said, that people use their sick leave rather than go to work ill.
Daniels could be the second vote not to take away the donation option, at least if there’s no abuse of it. The people receiving the time have major illnesses or are terminal, he said, and out of leave and out of money.
That’s a reason for the city to do a better job education its employees about disability insurance, Holic said. There are long-term and short-term options, he said, and they’re not very expensive.
“I always carried it,” he said.