Employees of Paintsville Utilities will not receive extended paid leave if found COVID-19 positive after a measure passed at the commission’s monthly meeting on Jan. 4 that would require employees to expend their banked sick days and vacation time to cover any leave associated with COVID-19 and to use unpaid family medical leave to cover any additional time away from work required in such a situation.

“The situation is, when they passed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, back in the Spring (of 2020), it provided for mandated sick leave outside of normal sick leave, and that mandate expired Dec. 31,” said Paintsville Utilities General Manager Bob Pack. “Part of that mandate provided for payroll tax credits to cover that, but it excluded state government and political subdivisions thereof. Cities are political subdivisions and we’re part of the City of Paintsville, so we were excluded from being eligible for those credits — so, it’s all on us.”

Pack said that the discussion at the board’s meeting was related to a new act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which allowed for employers to provide sick leave on a voluntary basis, but also that Paintsville Utilities was still excluded from the tax credit.

“The new act provides for employers so that they can provide sick leave on a voluntary basis and still get those tax credits, but we’re still excluded as part of a governmental entity,” Pack said. “The discussion (on Jan. 4) was whether we could extend that sick leave or not and there was a difference of opinion among the commissioners on that.”

Pack was referring to L.B. Lemaster, who voted to object to the company’s new policy, requiring employees to use their vacation or sick days to cover time off due to coronavirus.

“If you’re sick, you’re sick,” Lemaster said, after casting his vote as “against” the measure.

Pack said that this decision was based solely on the fact that the company was excluded from tax credits that would help to offset the added cost to the company, but stated that the commission does support its employees and would work with any employees to ensure as painless a process as is possible if an employee was COVID positive or if schools weren’t in person and an employee needed leave for the purpose of helping their children with virtual learning. Pack added that the company complied with the leave requirements throughout 2020 but wanted to try and reduce that added cost to be good stewards of the company’s financials.

“This commission does support their employees and we’re going to work with people,” Pack said. “We’ve got two potential exposures right now, and those people are, technically, at work, but they are also isolated. Our guys work in trucks, so we’re allowing them to work, but not to be around people — it’s to the point that if you have to take a bathroom break, you do that at home. One gentleman, on the water side, lives off on one side of the county and so he’s on that side of the county — there’s plenty of work over there so it’s legitimate. He’s out looking for leaks, this time of year you get a small leak … several small leaks can add up to a big leak and that will hurt (us), so we just use it as an opportunity.”

Pack said a lot of the work had to be done in teams and that another example of a possible exposure was a man working at pump stations, doing maintenance checks on them individually, fixing any issues and then moving on to the next one. Pack said he wished to reiterate that they were not confirmed positive or even confirmed to have been exposed, just that the two employees were “possibly exposed.”

The Paintsville Utilities Commission meets on the first Monday of each month at 5 p.m. and all meetings are open to the public.

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