Hayden, unions forge plan to curb sick-leave abuse BALTIMORE COUNTY


Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said yesterday that he will propose revisions in county policy that will curb abuses of sick-leave benefits, save the county about $750,000 a year, and satisfy local unions.

Mr. Hayden said he is proposing the changes in county personnel law and policy "so employees will not lose money for being sick or injured but will not make money either."

Leaders of the county-employee unions, who joined Mr. Hayden in yesterday's announcement, said they will recommend the plan to their members after their accountants study it.

Under the plan, employees would receive their regular take-home pay while on sick or accident leave, not the tax-free wages called for in the current policy. Also the plan eliminates the three-day waiting period before disability pay takes effect and lowers the amount of disability pay.

The plan, a compromise hammered out at a morning meeting between the executive and union officials, defused growing employee anger over a proposal announced three weeks ago. That plan would have forced employees to file for less-generous workers' compensation and would not have given them full regular pay while on leave for job-related injuries.

Union officers agreed the new rules will curb abuses of sick-leave benefits. The county has recorded numerous instances of abuse, Mr. Hayden said. One county employee took 46 days of sick leave for an arm injury reportedly received while pumping gas. Another was filmed tenpin bowling after being out for seven months for a back injury.

With full, tax-free pay, employees had little incentive to return to work because they got more money staying home, said Mr. Hayden. Now, he said, there will be no incentive for employees to stay home.

Also, the county will adopt an "aggressive policy" toward sick leave through weekly examinations of ill workers at the county clinic and stricter application of personnel rules. Between 120 and 150 county employees are on accident leave at any given time, he said.

Kevin O'Connor, president of the firefighters union, said, "You shouldn't get a bonus for being hurt. We want to ferret out abuse."

However, Mr. O'Connor said, "Our biggest concern was that we did not want any of our people to be adversely affected when they are injured. I don't see this as a change of compensation for on-duty injury. We are going to try to end abuses of people staying off too long."

Police and fire unions were the most vocal opponents of the initial plan and had held a joint rally where they threatened to join forces to defeat Mr. Hayden's expected re-election bid next year.

Yesterday, Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said officers had been upset over the original proposal but agreed with the compromise.

"On the surface it looks OK," he said.

Ed Petrick and Morris Barrett, representing the county's blue- and white-collar workers, echoed their fellow union leaders. "I think most of our major problems have been worked out," Mr. Barrett said.

The new system will be "fair and equitable" to both county employees and to the taxpayers, who have paid the bill for years for sick-leave abuses, Mr. Hayden said.

Savings from the plan could be used to hire more police or firefighters "and provide more services that citizens say they want," said Mr. Hayden.

Currently, injured employees receive more than their normal take-home pay, depending on their tax bracket, because two-thirds of their accident-leave pay is tax-free up to a cap of $494 a week. The county has said this adversely affects employees in higher salary ranges.

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