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Ask workers how they'd solve sick leave problem

September 05, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Whatever other problems West Virginia state government has, employee sick leave abuse apparently isn't one of them. But a new study says that sick leave accumulation by state workers may cost the state plenty down the road. Instead of being driven by consultants, we suggest state leaders ask employees how they'd solve the problem.

The Associated Press reports that a CCRC Actuaries, a Maryland firm, recently completed a survey of the state's employees and found that the 67,000 people covered by the state's retirement systems have stored up 7.4 million days of sick leave.

That's an average of 111 days per employee, and about 3,000 workers have more than a year's worth accumulated, some with 480 days or more.

So what's the problem? Depending on when they were hired and how much they make, employees can convert some unused sick leave into enhancements for their retirement plans or for health care coverage. If everyone did so, the study estimated that it could cost the state more than $1 billion.

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Assuming that will happen ignores several other possibilities, however. The first and most likely is that many employees won't stay in the state system until retirement. The second is that those who stay in the system for manyyears will have a need to use some or all of what they've accumulated.

Finally, by addressing this cost without looking at what benefit the incentives provide for the state, the study presents a false picture of dollars lost.

Actually, when employees don't use their sick leave, no one else has to do their jobs and departmental efficiency is maintained, at least in theory. And if employees see it as a benefit worth staying for, they save the state the cost of recruiting and training a replacement.

Here's our idea: Ask employees what they'd be willing to give up to reduce the number of hours accumulated. One suggestion has been to have the state buy back time at $25 per sick day, but that amount is probably too low to spark much interest. Give workers the facts, then let them suggest solutions.

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