November 18, 2015

Town Considers Expanding Sick Leave For All Part Time Municipal Employees

At a meeting of Princeton Council on November 9, a proposal to extend sick leave pay to all municipal workers, including part-time and seasonal employees, was outlined by administrator Marc Dashield. Providing extra sick pay would not have a significant financial impact on the budget, Mr. Dashield estimated.

Currently, all full time and part time municipal employees who work more than 20 hours a week are entitled to sick pay. Under an ordinance proposed earlier this year that would affect not only municipal workers but also those who are employed by local businesses, seasonal workers like lifeguards and part-timers such as garage workers and crossing guards would also be covered. Mr. Dashield went through each department to show how much estimated additional sick leave would be taken if the ordinance passed. A part time worker would be able to get one hour of sick leave for 30 hours worked, but would not be eligible to use the sick leave until they had worked 90 days.

“To me, this is an issue of fairness and humanity,” said Council member Jenny Crumiller. “We should definitely adopt it.” Council president Bernie Miller agreed, calling it a matter of “social equity.” Council member Heather Howard called it “a very reasonable proposal that I would support,” adding that the town cannot require local businesses to implement a similar sick leave policy without having one in place for municipal employees.

Other Council members questioned how the policy would be implemented and what restrictions would be needed to put it in place. “We don’t have a way to think about this in the way I’d really like to do,” said Councilwoman Jo Butler, who suggested seeking the advice of an economist.

Mr. Dashield recommended that the municipality require workers who call in sick to make a documented effort to locate a replacement. Craig Garcia of New Jersey Working Families did not agree with that suggestion. “If you have a health emergency, you have a health emergency,” he said, adding that it was fair to ask employees to find their own replacements but making it a requirement would be difficult to enforce.

Local resident John Heilner commented, “This is a basic right of all our workers in society” that “cannot be limited to those of a higher income. Every worker matters.”

Commenting this week, Mayor Liz Lempert said an ordinance requiring sick pay has been passed by some 10 municipalities throughout New Jersey. “There was concern that the language exempted the municipality, so we had to take a look at our own personnel manual and make sure we weren’t going to be imposing regulations we weren’t able to abide by ourselves,” she said. “After the presentation, there seemed to be a general consensus that we wanted to move ahead to modify the manual to offer sick pay to everyone, expanding to seasonal and part time people such as occasional employees.”

Mr. Dashield said he will work on specifics of the ordinance with the town’s personnel committee and report again at a future Council meeting.

See this issue’s Mailbox (page 17) for a related letter.