Atascadero will work with its employee unions to alter polices that dictate how much unused vacation time they can store, the City Council unanimously decided Tuesday.
The city hasn’t enforced caps placed on unused vacation time in at least 20 years, city attorney Brian Pierik said.
While Pierik says that’s acceptable under the law as an “unwritten practice,” the council asked staff to work on developing new ways to improve consistency between practice and policy.
“The public has a problem with policies that are not enforced. That breeds suspicion,” Atascadero resident Joan OKeefe said Tuesday. “Change the policy. That means the public knows what’s going on.”
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The issue came about earlier this year when the public criticized the city for not following its personnel policy, which states that employees can’t accumulate vacation once their balance has reached double what they would earn in a given year.
The city’s employees now have about $350,000 worth of accrued vacation time waiting to be used.
Even with the large vacation payouts due to employees who end their contracts without using up all their time accrued, officials say it’s still cheaper to allow employees to exceed allowed sums.
That’s because paying overtime to employees who cover shifts for someone on vacation costs more — overtime includes benefit pay while vacation pay doesn’t, Administrative Services Director Rachelle Rickard said.
While Rickard said that’s not ideal — because employees need a balance between their work and personal lives — it’s an easier way to manage vacations with a reduced staff.
“The work doesn’t go away,” she said. “Either the person is working before and after their (regular) day on overtime to take vacation or other people are doing overtime to cover that work.”
Options for the future include maintaining the existing practice; revising personnel rules to reflect the current practice; enforcing the current rule with the options of cashing out vacation in excess of the cap immediately or gradually; and creating a new policy with the option of differentiating between existing and new employees.
Officials plan to revisit the issue early next year.