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City to tighten enforcement of accrued leave

(Feb. 1, 2013) The town of Ocean City is tightening the reins on its leave accrual policies, though how widespread or financially damaging any previous laxities may have been is still unclear.

A memo dated Jan. 17 from city Human Resources Director Wayne Evans to the city government’s managers and department heads instructs them to take note of existing city policies “to ensure proper payment of accrued leave upon separation of employment.”

Passages from the city’s employee handbook, cited by Evans, note that any time off that an employee may build up over his or her career is to be “paid out” immediately upon leaving the city’s ranks. This includes unused paid vacation, unused paid personal leave, paid holidays that were worked, and compensatory time accrued for additional work done.

When employees leave their jobs, the equivalent of this time in hourly earnings is to be paid to the departing employee. But, according to a number of people in the city’s employ, accrued leave has been being used to take what amounted to an extended vacation at the end of one’s employment, thereby staying on the city’s payroll despite having no intention of physically returning to work.

“The objective of the policy is to avoid having people who have separated from employment with the Town to remain ‘on the books,’” city Communications Manager Jessica Waters wrote in an e-mail. “In other words, employees are still entitled to their leave time, however; they will no longer be permitted to take it after their separation date per the policy.”

Such procedure, Waters said, has always existed but was not always strictly enforced.

Former Ocean City Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino, for instance, is now serving as police chief in Sarasota, Fla. But despite leaving Maryland in December, DiPino will remain on Ocean City’s payroll until April, due to a 24-year law enforcement career with the city in which she rarely took time off.

“I do know there have been employees that this policy has not applied to,” Waters further said. “This memo was to remind people that this is the policy … and the direction that this is going to be handled from here on out.”

One of the potential ramifications of allowing employees to stay on the books by using leave time is that they would continue to receive benefits despite not actually working. These benefits could involve insurance coverage as well as financial perks, such as the retirement incentives the city offered in 2009 or the $1,000 bonus is granted employees last year.

“These policies do not contemplate the use of accrued leave to extend employment and/or benefits coverage beyond the last day worked, or to take leave in lieu of working a notice,” the memo stated.


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