Politics & Government

County executive wants authority to pay employees up to two hours for bad-weather days

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy wants the authority to grant up to two hours of paid leave for county employees on inclement weather days so they could arrive late or leave early.

McCarthy said the proposal was crafted in response to a major snow and ice storm three winters ago.

“What we’re trying to do is provide a level of flexibility,” she said Friday. “We just need clarity and we need flexibility.”

In January 2012, McCarthy closed county facilities during the storm and paid about 2,000 county workers their normal pay for the two days she ordered them not to report to work. She said she did so out of safety concerns for workers and the public.

She faced some criticism at the time because about 1,000 “essential workers” — including sheriff’s deputies, road division workers and emergency management employees — were ordered to go to work during the storm. They were not given their normal pay if they couldn’t make it to work.

Under the latest proposal, essential county workers would still have to report to work, said human resources director Ginny Dale. But if they were late due to road conditions on an inclement weather day, they could receive the allotted paid leave, she said.

County Council Chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said last week he wants to know whether it’s standard practice for other government jurisdictions and the private sector to allow up to two hours of paid leave on bad weather days. He also wondered how much the leave would cost the county in a tough winter.

“I’d like to have a lot more information and answers before I feel comfortable supporting it,” Roach said at a council committee meeting Aug. 18.

At Roach’s advice, the Rules and Operations Committee postponed making a recommendation on the proposal until Monday, when Dale will address questions. Final council action is scheduled for Sept. 2.

Under county code, McCarthy already can grant one hour of paid leave for late arrival due to inclement weather. The change doubles the amount and adds the option for early departure in bad weather, such as a looming snow storm.

The revision would provide employees “a little more grace period in extreme situations” instead of closing down county facilities, Dale said.

She said the two-hour limit is more in line with how school districts operate for late arrival and early dismissal.

McCarthy could approve any amount of time up to two hours. Time missed beyond that amount would be drawn first from an employee’s compensatory time, followed by personal holiday hours, vacation leave and sick leave.

For the 2012 storm, McCarthy’s decision to pay people who stayed home ran counter to what Pierce County’s two largest cities did. Tacoma and Lakewood required employees who stayed home to take some type of paid leave.

Closing county facilities because of inclement weather is still a possibility. But county spokesman Hunter George said Friday that McCarthy wants to set a very high bar and that weather conditions would have to be extreme for her to shut down county buildings.