New Laws protect state employee leave during state emergencies

Mike Seals - April 28, 2021 10:45 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two bills protecting the leave of state employees during governor-declared state emergencies are now law. Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, authored the bills after learning of the hundreds of hours of annual and compensatory leave accrued during the pandemic, and state employees not being able or allowed to take it by the end of the year.

“We’ve learned so many things during this pandemic, which have led to numerous reforms to modernize how our state government works. Many of our 33,000 state employees worked unimaginable hours to provide necessary services to Oklahomans last year. Unfortunately, due to increased public demand and low staffing numbers from quarantine and other issues, those employees weren’t able to take off and use their comp time or their annual leave before the deadlines and lost it,” Simpson said. “I’m sad that it’s not constitutionally allowed to make laws retroactive to get these employees their hard-earned time back, but I’m glad that this is now on the books and their time will be protected in future state emergencies. I applaud their outstanding work, dedication and diligence throughout the difficult past year and want them to know we are truly grateful for their service to the state of Oklahoma.”

SB 282 allows, during an emergency declaration, a temporary increase in accumulation limits for state employee annual leave, which may carry over to the end of the fiscal year in which the emergency declaration ends.  Under current law, state employees can accrue a set amount of annual leave based on their years of service. Once the cap is surpassed, the employee has until December 31 to use any excess annual leave or it is lost. For state employees with less than five years of service, the limit is 240 hours. Those with five or more years of service can accrue up to 480 hours.

Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, was the principal House author of SB 282.

“These hard-working state employees have served Oklahoma throughout a state of emergency and have had limited, if any, time to take their leave,” Hardin said. “These people have earned their leave. Now, they deserve to utilize their employment benefits to their full extent.”

SB 333 allows for the same increase and carry over for state employee compensatory time. Rules for comp time are set by each state agency in line with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, carried the bill in the House.

“Throughout the pandemic, many state agencies experienced staffing shortages due to quarantine,” Townley said. “Our valiant state employees stepped up to work overtime hours to make sure the needs of our state and its constituents were met. Thousands of Oklahomans work as state employees and would be affected by this change, so I’m glad the governor saw fit to sign this into law.”

Both bills will go into effect November 1, 2021.

 

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