Denham Springs might repeal advance sick leave policy

The Denham Springs City Council may have to repeal part of the city’s advance sick leave policy after the state Legislative Auditor’s Office said the policy violates state law.

Under the policy, city employees may apply to the City Council for sick leave beyond the hours they have accrued, up to 120 days.

Any advance leave is repaid using sick time the employee earns after returning to work.

If the employee stops working for the city before earning enough sick leave to repay the advance, the employee must reimburse the city for the difference.

The policy, included in the city’s code of ordinances, also permits the City Council to waive that repayment.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office said those provisions run afoul of the state constitution’s prohibition against loans or donations of public funds, City Attorney Paeton Burkett said.

The council will hold a public hearing April 28 and vote on a repeal of the policy.

Burkett told the council on April 8 that the call for repeal was prompted by a discussion with the Legislative Auditor’s Office following a recent use of the policy.

The council had approved advance sick leave for the city’s longtime treasurer, Clarence Speed, who was battling cancer at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Speed died March 5 at the age of 58.

The council was scheduled to “discuss and take appropriate action on reimbursement of paid sick leave” on March 28, but the agenda item was pulled without explanation.

An ordinance to repeal the policy was then introduced at the April 8 meeting.

Burkett said the policy can create a hardship on the city’s Human Resources Department, which must track the advance leave and ensure the hours are repaid.

“Sometimes it takes many, many months and even years to recoup all that back,” Burkett said.

Mayor Jimmy Durbin said the policy also can cause hardship on employees who may find repayment difficult, especially if they are unable to return to work.

Durbin said employees already have access to a catastrophic leave fund, which allows employees to donate extra annual and sick leave hours for future use by other city employees.

Employees cannot designate which of their colleagues will receive the donated hours, according to the city ordinance establishing the fund.

The donated time is approved on a first-come, first-served basis to those employees who meet the criteria for catastrophic sick leave.

City Councilman John Wascom has questioned whether ending the advance sick leave policy, which has been in place for about 20 years, would be a good move.

“We’ve done this for years,” Wascom said. “I can name four or five times it’s been used, and they pay back the city. It’s a nice benefit for our employees if they run out of sick time.”

The catastrophic leave fund is a valuable resource but relies on donated hours, Wascom said.

Wascom joined in the unanimous vote April 8 to introduce an ordinance repealing the policy but said he wants to discuss the change in-depth before the final vote to repeal.