GOULDSBORO — Selectmen late last week instituted a COVID-19 policy entitling the town’s municipal employees to up to 80 hours of paid time off if they contract the coronavirus.
The policy also cites mask-wearing and other best practices to avoid catching or spreading the disease but does not call for any disciplinary action if that protocol is not followed on the job.
At their April 1 meeting, selectmen voted 5-0 without comment to adopt the “Pandemic Virus Policy,” which is drawn from guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Two separate fire and police department policies, spelling out protocol for first responders to do their jobs, previously were drafted and implemented by the town manager. At present, the Fire Department’s Station 2 is serving as a satellite office for the town’s police officers to do administrative work and other tasks if a COVID-19 case or potential exposure is detected in the Prospect Harbor town office.
“The goal is to continue to provide a high level of service to Gouldsboro citizens,” the policy states. “However, the town may be forced to look at alternative staffing levels and/or an adjustment to work schedules, if vacancy rates escalate.”
At present, the town’s health officer is Gouldsboro Fire Chief Tate McLean. McLean and the town manager are to jointly monitor any “pandemic flu-like outbreak” in the community. The health officer will consider and determine the response to COVID-related employee issues on a case-by-case basis. Before taking any action, the health officer must inform the town manager due to the logistics involved and potential employment leaves. Likewise, the town manager must consult the health officer about anticipated town office closures, according to the adopted policy.
Under the federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which expired Dec. 31, 2020, part-time and full-time employees catching the virus were entitled to paid emergency sick leave for two weeks and continued health insurance. Since the law’s expiration, selectmen have sought a protocol for the town’s 32 full- and part-time employees to follow as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. The office has closed multiple times due to the virus.
Under the initial draft policy, employees failing to wear a mask and social distance away from their workstation first would have been warned verbally. A written warning, five-day suspension without pay and termination would have followed for four offenses total. Some employees opposed the proposed rules, saying they were excessive and harsh for a small-town municipal workforce. They also objected to not being consulted.
In January, the Maine Municipal Association hosted a workshop where its attorney and labor law experts recommended that Maine towns adopt a COVID policy but did not tout specific rules. Gouldsboro Town Manager Andrea Sirois, who attended the workshop, says having a protocol in place ensures town personnel are treated consistently and makes it clear to the public about how the town is being run amid a pandemic.
“COVID, as a whole, has made it hard to manage,” she said at a prior selectmen’s meeting. “There are just so many unknowns.”