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Idaho to lay off sick workers sooner

Idaho state employees who become seriously ill and go on disability now will be laid off after 12 weeks, rather than the previous six months, the Otter Administration has decided. The unilateral change in rules for state workers, one of several implemented by Gov. Butch Otter’s Division of Human Resources on Aug. 24, has angered state employees and lawmakers who say they weren’t informed, let alone consulted. “That’s going to create a more difficult atmosphere for us to work in, in the coming session,” said Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, chairman of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee. “I have people calling me telling me how difficult it is holding onto their highly qualified employees now. With this kind of a change it’s going to become more difficult.”

A union that represents about 450 state employees held a rally against the rule changes this week, and is calling on workers and others to weigh in during a public comment period on the new rules that starts Oct. 1. “It’s mean – it’s mean-spirited,” said Alex Neiwirth, organizer for the Idaho Association of Government Employees Local 687, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. “Who wants to be the person that tells someone, ‘OK, well, good luck, I hope your cancer treatment goes well, but your job’s not going to be here if it takes you more than three months’?”

Judie Wright, administrator of the state Division of Human Resources, said that rule change and another, eliminating a current rule that allows state employees to take up to two hours off with pay for occasional medical appointments, were included in a wide-ranging package of temporary rules that took effect Aug. 24. Those two were the major changes; the others updated various obsolete and duplicative rules to match state laws.

“It just allowed agencies the opportunity to be able to fill some of those critical positions quicker” when an employee is out on disability, Wright said. “For some of the more critical jobs, they can’t fill on a short-term basis with temps. This gives them the opportunity to fill those positions.” Ill workers who are laid off are placed on a register; once they’ve recovered, they’d be eligible for rehiring if the agency has an opening in a comparable job. Here’s a link to my full story at spokesmanreview.com.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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