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Board mulls changes to medical leave policy
Workers could donate money, but not time
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Forsyth County News


A push to allow Forsyth employees to donate personal leave has led county commissioners to consider changes to the medical leave policy.

The changes include a longer period of time under county health care coverage with lower rates and the ability for co-workers to donate a portion of their paycheck to other employees who are on medical leave.

Donating personal time to those workers, however, was not a proposed addition to the policy.

"Some people want it as expansive for anybody, but we do have to limit it," said Pat Carson, county director of personnel services.

"We wouldn't want to provide that for individuals that are also on short-term or long-term disability or worker's comp, because there's no incentive for them to come back to work."

Patrick Apoian has advocated for public safety employees in Forsyth to have the ability to donate time to co-workers, which he said is possible in other counties.

Apoian is the founder of Humble Heroes, an organization designed to provide support to emergency responders in the metro Atlanta area after they have been injured or fallen seriously ill.

The nonprofit has been raising money to help two former Forsyth public safety workers, including a firefighter battling cancer and a sheriff's deputy awaiting a heart transplant.

Apoian said the county's proposed policy is "a step in the right direction," but he said the real need is to enable the donation of personal time.

"It's putting a Band-Aid over a bullet wound," Apoian said. "If there's a reserve bank sick time for every guy that needs it, then you're getting your paycheck and your family's not wondering where your food will come from, and you're covered medically."

Commissioner Todd Levent said the county is considering the possibility of adding such a program for public safety personnel, but would need to explore the legalities.

Carson said the county does have a personal leave time donation program allowed in other circumstances.

For the medical leave policy, she said the direct deposit program could give co-workers a more "flexible and viable option" to help out fellow employees.

The program mirrors one in the Forsyth County Fire Department.

Chief Danny Bowman told commissioners last week that the program has been a success in helping an ailing firefighter pay some of his bills.

"It's about compassionate people helping others out," Bowman said.

Commissioners Patrick Bell and Pete Amos brought forth the request to allow for a policy change.

Bell said that he wanted the direct deposit program to be open to all types of personal or family emergencies and not just medical, but he doesn't want to "derail" this change, which he supports.

The commission expects to review a resolution for possible approval at a work session in April. The direct deposit and longer medical leave programs will be considered.

The addition of one year on county health care at retiree rates would allow for much lower premiums than what employees currently pay for the available federal health care.

That federal program, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, would still be available following the one-year of continuous county coverage at retiree rates.

Carson said the county had an average of seven employees who would have qualified for the proposed medical leave policy in 2009 and '10.

Assuming that average, the county could expect an additional $9,500 in health care coverage per employee on medical leave per year, Carson said, though she added that most employees don't use a full year.

Once the employee concludes medical leave, a request can be made to return to work, though no guarantees are given. During the unpaid leave, no employee benefits can be accrued.