Some Manchester town employees, namely police officers, will be able to continue using administrative leave time rather than sick time if they must quarantine due to COVID-19, according to a decision by the State Board of Labor Relations.
According to the decision, in April of 2020 the Town of Manchester implemented a policy allowing municipal employees not covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to take administrative leave time in lieu of sick time if they were exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 and forced to quarantine, which the town called COVID Time.
The FFCRA required that most municipal employees receive paid sick leave if they were unable to work due to the virus and, in exchange, were provided payroll tax credits to offset the costs. However, the law did not apply first responders like police officers.
The Town of Manchester first scaled COVID Time back in June of 2021 to apply only to vaccinated officers following a notice sent by the town in May. By the end of September 2021, the town unilaterally ended COVID-Time.
The Manchester Police Officers Association first filed a complaint in August of 2021 after a July 2nd Independence Day party during which eight Manchester police officers came down with COVID-19, including six officers who had not been vaccinated. The city did not allow the unvaccinated officers to use COVID Time and required them to use sick time. A few months later, the city ended COVID Time altogether, prompting the union to file an amended complaint in December.
The elimination of COVID Time came following the expiration of the FFCR and the town argued that it was merely returning to its pre-COVID status quo, and that the union did not bring up the matter during negotiations earlier that year.
Although COVID Time was not a part of the existing contract between the town and the police union – the existing contract was extended until September 2023 during negotiations — the state labor board determined that paid leave is a subject of collective bargaining and that, “a practice may create a binding condition of employment and once a condition of employment is obtained in fact through the parties’ practice, it may not be changed or eliminated unilaterally.”
Manchester’s other arguments that COVID Time fell under the emergency doctrine and that the additional leave benefit was only meant to be temporary also fell flat, as the board determined the emergency doctrine was not applicable by September of 2021 and that the unpredictable nature of the pandemic meant the union could not predict when such changes would be made.
The labor board did determine, however, that ample enough notice was given by the town to exclude unvaccinated officers from COVID Time, and that the union waived its rights to bargain over that change made in June of 2021.
According to the decision, Manchester will have to reinstate the COVID Time policy for vaccinated officers and other employees, reimburse fully vaccinated employees who were denied COVID Time retroactive to September 29, 2021 and return to the bargaining table with the union to discuss elimination of COVID Time.