A sick policy

Very few companies in the private sector — if any — allow workers to accrue several months worth of sick days, then give their employees what amounts to a cash bonus for those unused sick days when they retire or resign.

That’s why Charles Ashby’s article in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel, putting numbers to the state of Colorado’s extremely generous policy on vacation and sick leave, was such an eye-opener.

That policy allows state and university workers to bank up to 42 days of vacation time and 45 days of sick time — totalling a third of a year — and receive payment for that time at their pay level when they depart, even if they earned less in salary or hourly wages when the sick and vacation time was accrued.

As a result, over the past three years, Colorado has paid out more than $58 million to employees who departed with unused vacation or sick time. And it could have to pay an additional $367 million to current employees with large amounts of accrued leave.

Those are outrageous amounts at a time when the state has been cutting its budget to the tune of billions of dollars over the past three years. And it faces more cuts in the next fiscal year.

We’re not arguing that the state should renege on commitments it made to long-time employees. It needs to honor those commitments for employees who are close to retiring or resigning.

But the state should consider phasing out the cash payments for accrued sick leave and vacation time over a period of several years, allowing current employees time to use the time they have banked up before they leave state employment. And it should change the policy as soon as possible for new employees, making it clear there will be no cash bonuses for unused leave.

Fortunately, Mesa County State Rep. Laura Bradford said she is considering legislation to introduce next year that would change the cash-for-accrued-time policy. We hope she does so, and that her fellow lawmakers quickly approve it.

Workers in the private sector don’t receive the equivalent of a third of their annual salary when they retire or resign, just because they didn’t use all the sick leave and vacation time that was allotted to them as one of the benefits of their employment. Neither should those who receive their wages from taxpayers.


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