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Superior council to consider COVID-19 leave policy for city workers

Mayor Jim Paine proposed a temporary policy to pay city employees for up to five days to quarantine after COVID-19 infection.

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Government Center in Superior, Wisconsin.
Jed Carlson / 2019 file / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Superior City Council declared a state of emergency that allowed city administration to adopt temporary policies designed to protect employees from infection and mitigate the pandemic.

During that time, city employees were not required to use their paid time off if they were infected with COVID-19 and required to quarantine at home, at times for up to two weeks. They simply were paid their regular wage.

That state of emergency and those temporary policies ended June 1, 2021, even though the risk of infection remained.

Mayor Jim Paine proposed implementing the administrative leave policy again Monday, April 18, to pay employees required to quarantine without requiring them to use PTO or go without pay.

“It always bothered me that we were requiring people to take PTO,” Paine said. “There were some instances where people didn’t have enough PTO to cover it.”

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Paine presented five proposals Monday to Superior's Human Resources Committee:

  • Employees with a documented positive case of COVID-19 would be placed on administrative leave for up to five days following the infection.
  • Quarantines lasting longer than five days would require the use of PTO or unpaid time.
  • Subsequent infections would require the use of PTO or unpaid time.
  • Employees that can document a case of COVID-19 between June 1, 2021, and the time the policy is adopted could be credited for up to five days of PTO.
  • All policies expire at midnight Dec. 31, 2022.
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“The part that I can’t get past, is unlike almost any other time off, we are requiring employees to go home,” Paine said. “In a strong recommendation from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) … if you pop a positive test, you will go home, whether there’s symptoms or not, whether they want to or not.”

However, he said, if an employee challenged that decision, the city would win and the employee would be sent home.

Capt. Suzi Olson of the Superior Fire Department said firefighters attended the meeting to advocate for the policy because of the exposure levels they face. The fire department has been fortunate, Olson said, with only 13 firefighters testing positive since the start of the pandemic — a credit to testing and sending people home when they have symptoms.

When firefighters have been sent home in recent months, they had to use PTO to protect co-workers and the public, Olson said.

Human resources director Cammi Janigo said she had concerns about documenting positive tests for those who used home tests and how the policy would apply to unvaccinated individuals who had to quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19.

Paine said if someone had a documented medical reason why they couldn’t be vaccinated, he would be inclined to consider administrative leave, but for someone who simply chose not to be vaccinated, he would be inclined to require them to use PTO.

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said she would like more discussion and information about how the policy would work for employees who’ve already had COVID-19 since the state of emergency ended last year.

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Councilor Ruth Ludwig said she was concerned about adopting the policy without the retroactive component because it would be unfair to employees who’ve already been forced to use PTO for a COVID-19 quarantine.

By holding up the whole policy, Van Sickle the city would only be adding to the number of retroactive cases that would have to be dealt with.

Paine agreed the policy has to be fair but said the retroactive crediting of PTO is the most complex part of the policy.

“We’re inventing a whole new policy for a situation that never existed before and that we hope will be gone relatively soon,” Paine said. “It’s never going to be perfect. We’re not going to save everybody. I’m bringing it here now because I know for a fact that if I had this policy a few weeks ago, we could’ve protected a few people.”

The committee voted to implement the temporary administrative leave policy to include requirements that more than five days of quarantine, or second and subsequent infections are not eligible under the administrative leave policy. The temporary policy will expire at midnight Dec. 31, and will go to the city council for approval at its May 3 meeting.

The committee will consider retroactive crediting of PTO when it meets May 16.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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