County approves employee family and medical leave policy

Routt County commissioners approved a new family and medical leave policy on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, offering up to 12 weeks of leave at 90% of pay. Steamboat Springs and Hayden already have similar policies.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Starting July 1, Routt County employees will have access to up to 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave after commissioners approved the new policy on Tuesday, May 24.

Commissioners first discussed the policy last month, but county Human Resources Director Kathy Nelson said the policy has been long in the works.

“I feel like we should be clapping,” Nelson said after the policy was unanimously approved Tuesday.

Routt County’s policy is not the first locally, as Steamboat Springs and Hayden each have a similar benefit for their employees on the books. Colorado voters also passed Proposition 118, which creates a state-run family leave program that would start in 2024.

But County Manager Jay Harrington said the county planned to opt out of the state program, which would start taking a contribution out of paychecks next year, in favor of this one that won’t ask for employees to contribute anything more.

The policy offers employees 90% of their typical pay for up to 12 weeks if dealing with a serious health concern for them or a family member, to bond with a new child or has a need for safe leave, which is generally used when an employee has experience domestic violence.

There is a 14-day waiting period before the leave can start to verify a medical condition requires an extended absence, though parental and safe leave can begin right away. If more time off were needed after the 12 weeks ended, Nelson said, that’s when an employee would likely transition to a long-term disability program.

An employee would be eligible for the parental leave after their child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement, and if each parent works for the county, they are each entitled to 12 weeks leave.

“This feels like the right thing to do for our employees,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan. “I think it should help with attraction and retention. It’s another one of those things that people are thinking about when they choose an employer or when they’re thinking about whether or not they want to stick with us.”

Currently, county employees can donate sick time to each other when they need extended time off, but commissioners said this new leave policy is, in a way, replacing that system. Harrington indicated he wanted to revisit this policy before the family and medical leave benefit starts on July 1.

“It feels inequitable, and it feels like a violation of people’s privacy,” Commissioner Beth Melton said of the sick time donation system. “It’s often young women having babies asking older men who have worked here their whole lives to donate to them and I don’t like that for obvious reasons.”

Employees seem to be reacting positively to the leave policy, especially those in departments with younger staff, Harrington said.

“I think it’s just the direction that things are headed,” Melton said. “If you review the national data, a lot of workforce shortages are clearly coming from women being unable to return to work for a variety of reasons. I think policies that address the needs of families certainly have become more critical for that reason.”

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