Nearly lost in the contentious discussion of the future of Broadacres, the Orangetown Town Council approved one measure that all of its members said needed unanimous approval.
The board voted 5-0 to implement a sick leave and staff evaluation policy that will apply to all town employees.
"The most important thing here is we vote 5-0 on whatever it is we are implementing," Orangetown Councilman Denis Troy said. "Whatever the number is where management steps in and takes a look at employees."
"I'm amazed that an organization the size of this one never had a sick leave policy in the past," said Councilman Paul Valentine.
Work on the policy had been ongoing before the new town board members took office in January.
"The effort to create the policy had stalled," said Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart. "The building blocks were there. It had gotten too complicated.
"I'm proud of this accomplishment. It goes to the heart of fairness, efficiency and management."
Stewart said one thing he felt was important was to involve town department heads in the process of creating the policy. He said town labor contracts do address sick leave, but they don't spell out how to deal with issues such as misuse.
"I would say it had gone off the rails," Stewart said. "There was no consensus on how to do it and (the process of writing the policy) did not involve the department heads. What I did was say this is a tool for management, so let's talk as a team.
"It is an empowerment of management to do their jobs. Good management is good for employees and the town."
In a draft of the policy handed out at last week's meeting, Stewart laid out the goals as follows:
1. Fairness and consistency in sick leave policy among departments and in treatment of employees. Employees who are sick should be using sick leave. This is their right under union contracts, and their responsibility to their own health and that of their colleagues. Misuse of sick leave costs the town money, reduces productivity and undermines employee morale.
2. Annual staff evaluations are a necessity both for employees who are entitled to good supervision and support, and to superiors who need to make sure employees understand their duties. It is my understanding that the implementation of annual evaluations is inconsistent among town departments. Some do it. Some don't. Under the CSEA contract, if the town does not (evaluate) all CSEA employees, then no evaluations are to be maintained in employee files.
The evaluations are to be used for union and non-union employees.
The sick leave policy defines "abnormal use of sick leave" as use that causes suspicion that leave time has been used inappropriately. The policy included examples of abnormal use:
1. The use of sick days the day before, or the day after, regularly scheduled days off.
2. The use of sick leave the day before, or the day after, a holiday, vacation, personal leave or other forms of earned or accrued leave.
3. The use of sick leave on a holiday for which the employee is scheduled to work.
4. The recurrent use of sick leave on the same day of the week or month within any consecutive twelve-month period.
5. Any other patterned use of sick leave.
6. An employee's use of a disproportional amount of his or her earned sick leave in a relatively brief amount of time, unless obvious mitigating circumstances are present.
7. Visual or reported observation of an employee's activities while on sick leave which are inconsistent with the claimed illness or other reason for the use of sick leave, such as recreating or attending social functions.
8. The use of three sick days within a twelve-month period.
Any of these items will be used as a guideline for a manager to take a closer look into the employee's use of sick leave time.
Stewart pointed out that the use of three days was not arbitrary. It is mentioned in both the CSEA and PBA contracts. It is three consecutive days in the police contract, three total in CSEA.
Deputy Town Attorney Barbara Gionta played a key role in preparing the policy.
"A good manager should be aware of the amount of sick leave employees are taking," Gionta said. "This is an aid for managers, not punitive for employees."