York’s Wagner says unused sick/vacation policy must change

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Our recent story about a former state Senate staffer getting a $90,000 severance, $83,000 unused sick time, and $30,000 unused vacation time upon retirement had a lot of you talking and at least one Midstate lawmaker calling for policy changes.

“In our companies, you use your vacation or you lose it,” said Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) who also owns businesses. “And honestly, we want our people to take vacation to avoid getting burned out.”

Wagner is in the waste and trucking businesses. Has he ever written an $83,000 check to a departing employee for unused sick time as the Senate recently did?

His answer is immediate: “No.”

Wagner said he questioned Senate leadership after seeing our story and was told the unused sick/vacation check was per Senate policy.

“It’s a policy that’s in place and it’s a policy that needs to be changed,” Wagner said. “There’s so many things up here that need attention and need fast attention.”

To be fair, the Senate is not the only institution that allows employees to bank unused sick and vacation time. The House does it. The executive branch does it. The judicial branch does it. In fact, most public sector employees get to do it, too.

But also to be fair, getting an $83,000 check in unused sick time on your way out the door is a bit excessive. It doesn’t happen in the private sector and if anyone is looking to reform they need look no further that the Capitol’s host city of Harrisburg.

“Our new policy as of January 1, 2015, is a maximum of 52 days,” said Shannon Williams, CEO of Capital Region Water.

Williams says non-union employees routinely banked lots of unused sick and vacation days, which made the city’s finances ill when it was time to pay out.

But new caps should curb the excesses.

“We went from having a 180-day possibility to having a 52-day possibility,” Williams said.

Capital Region Water will no longer be on the hook for payouts beyond 52 days of unused sick and vacation time combined.

Union workers are still banking unlimited sick time, but Williams said that will be an issue for discussion when their contract expires at the end of next year.

“We want to make sure we’re fair to our people, but also don’t accrue these major liabilities that could come payable at any time,” Williams said.

Unused sick and vacation time that’s owed to employees is called a liability. Williams estimates it at $800,000 for Capital Region Water.

Wagner estimates it’s much higher at the Capitol.

“It’s probably millions of dollars,” Wagner said. “Not two or three, its tens of millions of outstanding liabilities potentially.”

Longtime Capitol staffers were surprised at the $90,000 severance given to the retired Senate employee. Unused sick and vacation payouts are normal, they say, but severance checks are not.

 

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