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Extending COVID leave

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading and causing havoc worldwide. Because of circumstances like sickness and quarantine, organizations and government entities have allowed for set paid time off through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). COVID continues to be a concern, but the FFCRA expired at the end of 2020.
Now it is up to individual organizations whether they allow paid time off for COVID-19 situations.

Several local entities have looked over FFCRA benefits and partnered with their legal departments to find a plan that fits. The final decision was between four options allowing for different circumstances. For clarity, this extension does not “re-start the clock.” It only extends the timeframe when benefits are available. Anyone who has already used their leave is not eligible.

Options 1 and 2 focus on similar coverage as FFCRA, while Options 3 and 4 make employees use any time they have left before helping or use unpaid leave. Johnson County Schools’ legal team recommended either Option 1 or Option 2, and school officials agreed and immediately started debating between those two.

The most significant difference between Option 1 and Option 2 is the extent of coverage. Option 1 covers anyone in quarantine or isolation, anyone advised to self-quarantine, and anyone with symptoms and seeking a diagnosis. Employees receive 100 percent of their pay up to $511 a day. Option 2 extends this to cover caring for someone under the first two conditions or a child who is home because their school or care facility closed. Pay for either of the added reasons decreases to two-thirds of pay up to $200 a day. For either option, this spans over 40 hours.

Both Johnson County and Johnson County Schools decided on Option 1, extending paid leave through May 31, 2021. Both will fund this leave internally. Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox assured the School Board that surrounding counties in this region are doing the same. Policies are subject to change depending on what action President Biden takes on the subject.

“We don’t know what is going to happen under the new Biden administration, but we do have to have a COVID leave in place for this time,” Simcox explained.

The Tomahawk reached out to City Mayor Jerry Jordan to ask about the city’s plans. As of the time of this article, the city continues to pay its employees for leave and will discuss the issue further at the next City Council meeting.