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Council discusses OT pay for some employees

The Harrison County Council is considering paying salaried employees a bonus or overtime hours for extra long work weeks during the COVID-19 outbreak.

There are still several pieces of information the council wants to know, but it has learned salaried employees with the Harrison County Health Dept. are working well over 40 hours a week. Harrison County Auditor Chad Shireman said Carrie Herthel, the department head, has worked more than 100 hours either in a pay period or one week.

That’s one question the council is looking for an accurate answer as it asks department heads for more information regarding how the outbreak is affecting the amount of work they have right now. That includes how many employees this impacts and if their work is essential to stopping the spread.

Hourly employees are already paid an overtime rate for hours over 40 worked each week. Shireman said a lot of these hours worked could be reimbursed by funds established by state or federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“How do we prevent others from coming forward?” asked Councilor Brad Wiseman. “Say somebody from the parks department that works 70 hours a week over the summer. How do you then prevent them from coming forward to say, ‘I’m salaried; I was working well more than 40 hours.’ What do we do or how do we word this? That’s where we need some guidance to prevent that from happening.”

Several minutes later, Larry Shickles, superintendent of the Harrison County Parks Dept., spoke on the phone to the council. He said his workers are impacted by the outbreak, being asked to go clean park facilities to help ensure the disease doesn’t spread from a county park.

“If we are being called out by the health department to go to playgrounds and to places to sanitize to deal with campgrounds where there may be infected folks, we should tell the health department to go themselves because they’re frontline and we shouldn’t be working,” Shickles said.

He added he’s exempt from overtime but is putting in 70 hours a week.

The sheriff’s department would go through the same thing.

Shireman said Greg Reas, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, will use his extra hours worked as compensatory time off.

Councilor Kyle Nix said if Reas was given the option to use the overtime hours to receive extra pay, he may choose that option, which would be another employee the county would have to pay overtime.

During the hour-long discussion via phone, while the council is still practicing social distancing, some councilors said they were open to giving extra compensation to these employees but wanted to find a fair process to determine what should be paid and when this bonus would end.

“We should put a limitation on it now and have to revisit it,” Nix said.

The council could use the $1 million it allocated to the COVID-19 response to cover the extra compensation, but it is not known how much of that has already been spent. Shireman said those funds have been used to purchase N95 masks as well as items that have allowed health department employees to work from home.

“I have all the claims paid and those that are pending,” Shireman said.

Shireman said the health department is the only department to ask for extra pay due to the outbreak, but Herthel was not available during the meeting to answer questions from the council.

The council intends to meet in person for its next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26 (moved from the fourth Monday due to Memorial Day), at the government center in Corydon. The meeting would take place one day after the county’s order to close county facilities to the public is lifted.