State Workers Lose Leave Over Snow Day Absences

Monday, December 4th 2006, 8:40 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) After an unexpected four-day weekend brought on by ice and snow, thousands of state workers learned the bad news Monday about how they'll have to make it up, by shedding some of their personal leave.

A state policy that requires nonessential state employees to lose compensatory or annual leave when they miss work due to bad weather was the target of complaints from workers who telephoned the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said executive director Scott Barger.

``They weren't aware that they were going to have to use some type of leave,'' Barger said.

Workers at the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, the state Tax Commission and other state agencies stayed home Thursday and Friday after a winter storm dumped more than a foot of sleet and snow in some parts of the state, closing major roadways and shuttering hundreds of schools and businesses.

State offices also closed and officials instructed workers not to report to their jobs. But given a choice some would have come to work rather than lose two days of leave, Barger said.

``Many of them didn't feel that they had an option, their offices were closed, period,'' he said.

State workers who were required to work during the snow days, including those at the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Corrections, are wondering if they will be given time off for working on snow days when others did not.

``How do we compensate those folks as well?'' Barger said.

The snow-day guidelines are contained in a 2004 memo on state agency services during hazardous weather from the Office of Personnel Management that was redistributed to agencies Monday to clarify how state worker absences should be handled.

The memo says workers not responsible for basic minimum services who miss work due to bad weather may charge the absence to their accrued enforced or sick leave, annual leave, compensatory time or some other method that complies with federal law.

Barger said many state workers believe it is unfair to deduct their vacation and sick leave when their supervisors gave them no choice but to stay home. Oscar Jackson Jr., Gov. Brad Henry's secretary of Human Resources and Administration and administrator of OPM, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Barger said OPEA, which represents about 8,000 of the state's 30,000 employees, plans to support legislation next year to change the policy.

``This is something that we're going to be taking a look at,'' he said. ``Let's give those nonessential state employees administrative leave.''

Tony Hutchinson, interim director of the Office of State Finance, said that while salaried state employees lose no pay when they miss work due to bad weather, charging the missed days to personal leave actually creates a savings for the state.

``It comes out of people's own leave. So there's not any accrued liability to the state from that standpoint,'' Hutchinson said.

It costs the state more than $9.6 million a day to pay the salaries of all salaried and hourly workers, not including benefits, Hutchinson said. Deducting leave time to compensate for snow-day absences helps balance the costs.

``There's no accounting costs that take place on a snow day,'' he said. ``It probably didn't cost the state anything. Basically, it's a wash.''