When Bartholomew County officials first proposed limiting the hours of part-time workers to 25 a week, Candy Taylor would have felt the crunch and said she would have had to consider whether she could keep working as a court reporter.
But she says she can live with a proposed compromise of 28 hours a week, which will allow her to continue to pick up her youngest son from school and to finish the work in front of her every week. Under the 25-hour limit first considered by county officials, Taylor didn’t believe she could complete the work and deal with the loss of pay.
“I have stayed so long just because I like the job, I like the people I work for and I like the flexibility,” Taylor said. “It has been a good job.”
Setting a maximum for part-time hours worked by county government employees is being driven by the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to offer health care benefits to workers who average 30 or more hours on the job a week. To avoid paying penalties or having to offer benefits, county officials instead considered setting limits on the hours of part-time employees.
Taylor, the court reporter in the county’s child support court, was praised by two of the county judges and the prosecutor during a February County Council meeting. They said she was an example of a dedicated, talented employee who would be hard to replace if she left because the work she handles is delicate and requires confidentiality. And Taylor’s consistency would be hard to maintain if the same work had to be split between several part-time workers.
Taylor said she also worried about how the work would be completed, if the county had to switch to others sharing her job. Taylor, who has worked in legal offices before taking the local court job in 2009, said that her family doesn’t need another full-time income nor health insurance. Her husband, Mike, works for Cummins Inc.
Taylor normally works 28 to 29 hours a week, usually from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
About 40 county employees worked part time but 30 or more hours a week when the issue was first discussed. Offering insurance to all of the employees would cost the county about $560,000 a year, based on estimates by Barb Hackman, the county auditor.
The county originally considered limiting the employees to 25 hours a week to avoid the breaching the 30-hour level, but department heads and elected officeholders complained that was too few hours. Last week, County Commissioners directed the county attorney to prepare a change to the county’s policy manual, limiting part-time employees to 28 hours a week. County Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop said that was a more workable figure, according to input from the department heads and elected
Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said it would be up to the County Council to decide on funding employees’ pay and benefits for those who are deemed too critical to limit to 28 hours a week.
“Our intent is not to hurt anybody personally, but we have got to comply,” Kleinhenz said. “The council will have to make the tough decisions. Ours is not really too difficult. Theirs is the one that will have to analyze individual cases and decide if a full-time position is merited.”
Most departments are making plans to reduce the hours of part-time workers, but Hackman said four departments have either already made requests to change the status of their employees, or are planning to do so:
- Prosecutor’s office, changing a part-time adult protective services worker to full time.
- Purdue Cooperative Extension office, making a part-time educator position full time.
- Health department, changing a part-time dietitian to full time.
- Court services, allowing benefits for two part-time employees.
The jobs in the prosecutor’s office, the cooperative extension office and the health department are all paid for, at least in part, by grants and the granting agencies will pick up the cost of the benefits, Hackman said.
Brad Barnes, community corrections director for the county’s court services department, said his office identified seven positions where part-time employees were working more than 30 hours a week, all at the county Youth Services Center. For five of the jobs, the department will reduce the hours to meet the county mandate and possibly hire more part-time staff to cover the gaps, Barnes said.
However, for two positions the department is stuck without much of a recourse, except to ask the county to reclassify the employees so they can be part-time with benefits, Barnes said. The nurse at the center needs to work about 35 hours a week and a third-shift youth care worker is needed on duty every night.
If the nurse spends part of her time dispensing medicines at the Bartholomew County Jail work-release center, the county could use funds from the Indiana Department of Correction to pay for benefits, which would save the county money, Barnes said.
Sheriff Mark Gorbett said the jail has 12 part-time workers, most of whom already work 28 hours or less. But there will still be five employees affected by the hour caps. Gorbett said the department plans first to attempt to abide by the restrictions, hiring additional part-time staff if necessary to make schedules work.
“I feel comfortable from working with the council and the commissioners that if I need to change some part-time positions into a part-time position with benefits, they would be willing to listen to that and the arguments for that,” Gorbett said.
Commissioners directed Grant Tucker, the county attorney, to prepare the policy change for consideration at an upcoming meeting. Monday morning’s County Commissioners meeting has been canceled.