The Nassau County legislature passed a bill Monday drastically cutting payouts for leftover sick and vacation time given to nonunion county employees when they leave government service.
Under the bill, nonunion employees hired on or after March 1, 2019, would be paid for up to 30 accumulated vacation days and 30 unused sick days after they leave.
Under current county law, nonunion workers hired after Aug. 15, 2014, can be paid for a maximum of 75 vacation days and 175 sick days upon termination. Employees hired before that date can cash out 90 unused vacation days and 200 unused sick days.
Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, proposed an earlier version of Monday's bill in August after a Newsday report found Nassau had paid more than $2.5 million in unused vacation and sick time to 75 political appointees who exited county government after the election of Democratic County Executive Laura Curran in November 2017.
Curran's election brought significant turnover to county government after the eight-year administration of Republican Edward Mangano. Seven of the employees got more than $100,000 each, according to county records.
“It’s a little bit too much for the residents to bear,” Ford said in an interview. “A lot of people do not get these types of buyouts.”
Disclosure of the payouts prompted discussion about the county’s time-off policies, with some legislators wondering why exempt employees had not taken more sick leave and vacation time over their tenures in county government. The new bill would allow employees to accrue more vacation time earlier in their first year.
“When we are giving benefits of having sick and vacation time, it’s for the benefit and the welfare of the employee. We want to urge the employees to take their time," Ford said Monday. "By eliminating the amount that they can retire with, hopefully they will realize that they should use the time before they lose it."
Ford said the policies would result in "saving substantial taxpayer dollars."
Nassau’s finances are precarious. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, its financial control board, projected in October that Nassau could face a $70 million deficit this year, and a $59 million one next year.
The legislation also would let newer employees accrue more vacation time earlier in the year. Employees hired on or after March 1, 2019, would be credited with 5 vacation days after about 6 months, and an additional 5 days after one year.
Under the current policy, employees hired on or after Aug. 15, 2014, were only given two vacation days after the first half year, and three days at the end of the year.
Ford said that she gives "credit to anybody who agreed to work for us, with only getting two days vacation in their first year of employment. So we're trying to even things out."
After one year, employees start accruing half of a vacation day per pay period, which occurs every two weeks.
“For us we’re saying that if you get the time, take it," Ford said . "You have an opportunity to take vacation time. If you’re sick, don’t come to work when you’re sick. You get paid to stay home and get better.”
Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said she supported the legislation, but wanted more revisions, including a provision requiring employees take five consecutive vacation days.
"Occasional vacations fail to offset the stresses of the work environment," Bynoe had written in a September memo in support of a mandatory consecutive leave policy.
Ford said she would be open to considering further changes down the road.