Nearly 200 employees of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System have reported falling ill with COVID since early July, but most of them had to wait until early this month before the school district processed their claims. fully paid COVID leave. .
Part of the delay is that the parish school board did not approve the furlough before its August 18 meeting, a month later than planned and nine days into the new school year. But even after that, it took another 13 days, until August 31, to manually enter the correct codes for COVID leave into the district payroll system.
“It’s a manual process at the end,” explained Nichola Hall, chief human resources officer. “It’s a bit outdated and we’re fixing that,” noting that the school system will soon be moving to a new payroll system.
Since fall 2020, the school system has offered its nearly 6,000 employees special paid COVID days off, currently up to five days, in addition to the 10 days of personal leave employees receive each year. Employees can accumulate personal leave over time, but not COVID leave.
The federal government has for some time taken out COVID leave for many employers. After federal money ran out, many school districts discontinued that help, but East Baton Rouge still offers it.
Employees who are denied COVID leave should use their personal leave instead. If that runs out, their pay will be locked in for each day missed unless they successfully apply for extended sick leave – but that leave only pays two-thirds of their normal pay.
Hall said that as of Thursday, 188 school employees, or about 3% of district staff, had reported having COVID since July 1 and requested time off. Of those 188, 73 employees requested furlough ahead of the board’s vote on Aug. 18.
“I can say about 50% of those 188 have been approved so far,” Hall said.
She said she expects all remaining leave requests to be processed in the coming days.
Hall cautioned, however, that not all remaining employees will be automatically approved for help. His office checks every application to make sure employees have submitted the correct documents, including a PCR test showing they are positive for the virus – no rapid home tests.
Since the payroll coding issue was resolved, she said two of her staff have called each affected employee and, if they could not reach the employee, staff would follow up by email. .
“We believe in this individual approach,” Hall said. “We pick up the phone and call everyone.”
Also slowing things down is that 10 of her HR staff this year have themselves fallen ill from COVID, she said.
The payroll coding issue, which delayed the processing of leave requests, was not relayed to all employees who were denied.
The confusion over COVID furloughs comes as the district faces a worse-than-usual teacher shortage that has caused vacancies at some schools.
A school employee, who asked that her name not be used, told The Advocate that she fell ill with COVID shortly after the start of the school year and quickly requested COVID leave. The district’s human resources emailed her a few days after the school board voted to deny her request for COVID leave.
“Denied? I was thinking,” the employee said. “No, that shouldn’t be okay”
She said she then spoke on the phone with a human resources representative who blamed the denial on the lack of “guidance” on COVID leave from the school board, a response that left her even more confused because the board had just voted to continue offering the special leave.
This employee said she had recently resubmitted her request for COVID leave, but as of Friday had not yet received a response from HR.
The school district is insisting that previously denied employees resubmit their leave requests rather than HR reprocessing their original requests.
“The system doesn’t allow us to roll back,” Hall said, adding that the new payroll system should fix that problem.
Now, employees requesting COVID will have their leave requests processed much faster.
“Typically, we try to do it in about 48 hours if everything is in order,” Hall said.