ELIZABETHTOWN — Although how it would be enforced was controversial, Essex County lawmakers decided by split vote that county employees who come to work with swine-flu symptoms will be sent home.

The County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to allow department heads to order workers who may have the H1N1 influenza virus to go home.

“People will come to work when they’re ill,” County Attorney Daniel Manning III said. “We’ve got a possible pandemic. We’re trying to prepare for it.”

He said anyone sent home would use sick, vacation, personal or comp time while off. If they had no time off coming, they could use sick days borrowed from the next year.

“Department heads will have the ability to send that employee home or order that employee not to come to work until at least 24 hours after the subsidence of symptoms,” Manning said.

The regulation applies solely to H1N1 influenza virus, also called swine flu, he said, and it will be in effect only as long as the Centers for Disease Control has an H1N1 pandemic alert.

“We feel the H1N1 may last as long as seven days. The policy will be temporary in nature.”

The policy generated controversy because some supervisors don’t believe you can force employees to have their temperature taken or give them sick days they haven’t earned.

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he doesn’t believe the county can give an employee a paid day off they haven’t earned.

But Manning said the county has lag pay, in which a worker’s first weeks are withheld until they leave county employment, and that would be used as a last resort.

“If they’re still working by Jan. 1, there shouldn’t be any problem with the Comptroller’s Office. If they leave before that, we’d go to lag pay.”

Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) doesn’t support allowing sick workers to take their own temperatures.

“I’m concerned this would create sick-leave abuse within the county.”

Manning said the department head or a deputy would make the determination, not the worker.

“People who abuse sick leave are going to do it anyway. I do recognize the concern.”

He said a nurse from the County Public Health department would probably take the temperature.

County Manager Daniel Palmer said Public Health has agreed to provide a digital thermometer if a nurse is not available.

“If it’s a high temperature, we can ask them voluntarily to go home.”

Palmer said they wouldn’t force people to get a doctor’s excuse to return, because if there is a pandemic, doctors may be overwhelmed by the number of people with the swine flu.

Voting against the emergency authority for department heads were Blades and Scozzafava. It passed, 16-2.

Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said they had people sending sick kids to the town Youth Center.

“We ended up sending them home. They hadn’t sent them to school, but they sent them to the Youth Center.”



E-mail Lohr McKinstry at:

lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

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