Different departments, different policies for employee on-call, overtime hours

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In a 90-minute work session on Thursday Jan. 14, the Washington County Board of Supervisors debated how to pay employees for being on-call (sometimes without being called), working overtime (especially dealing with blizzards and floods) and responding to all manner of medical and other emergencies, including the COVID-19 crisis.

The conclusion was that a “one size” policy does not fit all.

During the discussion, department heads explained that there have been accommodations in the departments that provided for overtime pay and compensatory time, keeping within the policy that more than 40 hours in a work week generally constitutes overtime. However, as stressed by County Engineer Jacob Thorius, Secondary Roads offers “a lot of flexibility” such as coming a few hours early to balance having to leave early for appointments, arranging schedules to accommodate overtime and even giving vacation time to another worker, especially those who had to deal with COVID.

Equally discussed was being on-call and possibly not being called. There was general agreement for the existing policy of being paid a minimum of two-hours for being on-call. Obviously, if an employee was called and worked a whole day, the employee was paid for all hours worked.

That brought up another issue of what constitutes hours worked when it is a holiday, paid at the regular rate. Would working the paid holiday be time and a half? Or just regular pay? Policy varies by department, reflecting the difference in duties and if there is a union contract, as there is for the police department.

For all county employees — especially those whose work involves direct services such as medical and public health, fire, police and roads — there will be times when work must continue well beyond regular scheduled hours. These departments make a provision for needed overtime in their annual budgets. But that has, in the past, been based on probable need, not dealing with the results of a pandemic.

Supervisor Abe Miller said that the members had to look more closely at all issues. A key concern is if all hours beyond 40, are considered overtime, department budgets for employee overtime could double. It also was noted that there are other counties with higher hourly pay and different overtime rules.

There will be further considerations about differences in policies depending on the department. The deadline for budget certification by the state is March 31.

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