Blair prison reworks FMLA policy

Rules could lower overtime costs

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County will tighten its rules for prison employees seeking temporary leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, a factor contributing to the prison’s overtime.

Under the forthcoming policy, prison employees will be expected to use their sick time and vacation time before seeking unpaid leave available under FMLA, the federal legislation allowing workers to keep their jobs while dealing with their own or with a family member’s health-related matters.

Even though the employee

doesn’t get paid during FMLA leave, the prison incurs overtime to cover absent employees’ work shifts. And while not all overtime is linked to FMLA, the county hired a Pittsburgh law firm in October 2017 to examine the FMLA practices at the prison and recommend changes.

Judge Daniel J. Milliron, who chairs the county prison board which met Thursday, credited attorney Shon K. Warner of the Campbell, Durrant, Beatty, Palambo and Miller firm for his review of the FMLA policy with Katherine Swigart.

Swigart is the county director of human resources.

“The fact is, we had an abuse of it at the prison,” Milliron said.

But FMLA leave isn’t the only factor influencing the prison’s overtime that swelled to $36,541 for the two-week pay period ending July 5 and to $43,617 for the pay period ending

July 19.

Warden Abbie Tate told the prison board that some of the recent overtime resulted from having to assign assignment of corrections officers to three inmates who had overnight hospitalizations for specific procedures.

When the prison incurs overtime when assigning officers to round-the-clock shifts at the hospital, it also simultaneously occurs overtime at the prison, because other officers have to fill the work shifts otherwise held by the officers with the hospitalized inmates.

Milliron said he hopes to see the prison’s overtime go down because of forthcoming changes in use of the FMLA. Tate said she thinks the forthcoming changes have already generated fewer FMLA call-offs among the staff, which has been made aware of how FMLA leave will be used in the future.

The county’s prison board, which meets monthly, receives a spending report showing the cost of staff salaries and overtime, plus how those amounts compare to what’s in the county budget.

“I think we need to be following this and see if it has the intended impact that I think it will,” Milliron said.