After her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Jan Caputo spent two years traveling back and forth to Denver to assist her.
“There’s no way that I just would have let my mom be there by herself,” said Caputo, 67, who worked for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control at the time.
But the travel meant Caputo worried about using up all of her state leave and vacation days.
Earlier this week, the S.C. House offered a possible solution.
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To help in situations similar to Caputo’s, the House passed a budget proposal that would allow state employees to give unused sick and vacation days to coworkers.
Under the proposal, state employees could request that hours of their vacation or sick leave be transferred to a specific coworker within their agency, subject to some rules.
Employees should be able to donate extra time off as long as it is approved by their agency’s leaders, said state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who sponsored the proposal.
The proposal, passed with bipartisan support, now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
State Sen. Thomas Alexander, the Oconee Republican who chairs the Senate budget panel that will consider the proposal, said the idea could help employees handling long-term illnesses.
But, he said, he wants some safeguards in place to prevent abuse of the policy.
The proposal would be in addition to existing leave-pool programs, Rutherford said.
Currently, state employees can donate extra leave time, but it goes into a pool that is managed by a human resources office, said Department of Administration spokeswoman Kelly Coakley. Requests for donated leave from workers then are reviewed for approval, she said.
For example, the state Department of Mental Health had 2,888 hours of paid time off donated from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2015, according to that agency. Fourteen agency employees requested donated leave and 2,142 hours were awarded.
“The program does help to mitigate the financial hardship for those employees whose illness or injury has caused them to exhaust their earned leave,” said Mental Health spokesman Mark Binkley, adding, given the agency’s 4,000 workers, there were relatively few requests for donated leave.
Rutherford’s proposal would allow state workers to donate leave directly to a co-worker in need, said Carlton Washington, executive director of the S.C. State Employee Association. State employees want to be able to help directly co-workers who they know are having difficulty, he added.
While working for the state Department of Education, Donald Tudor, now 69 and retired, said he donated many vacation and sick-leave days to that department’s leave pool. Other Education Department employees also regularly donated time off, he said.
For example, Tudor said many of the school bus mechanics he oversaw were healthy and would not take leave unless they were sick. As a result, their leave time accumulated to the point that they would lose it, so they donated it to the leave pool, he said.
That system worked well, Tudor said, allowing another bus-shop mechanic in another part of the state to take needed leave.
Caputo, who retired in 2012, said if several co-workers would have been willing to give her a day or two of leave, it would have helped relieve her anxiety about not getting a paycheck while helping care for her mother and incurring extra bills for travel.
Caputo said there are many situations like hers, where state workers are aware of another co-worker experiencing a hardship.
The program would help employees without harming the state, she added. “Taxpayers are not expending anything extra.”
The budget and S.C. state employees
If the S.C. Senate approves the House-passed budget for the state’s fiscal year that begins July 1, state employees would:
▪ Get a 2 percent pay hike
▪ Pay 0.5 percent more for their retirement contributions
▪ See no increase in their health-care costs