ROCKPORT — Stating Jan.1, Rockport town employees will no longer be allowed to bank time off in order to get huge cash payouts when they leave.

The move by the Select Board targets and puts an end to a practice that led to departing staff being owed months of unused vacation and sick time — and taxpayers writing big checks for exiting workers with years of service.

It is just one part of a major overhaul of Rockport’s personnel policies that soon will also impact salaries. It’s a “significant house cleaning” that “will transform the Town of Rockport’s workplace in a manner in hasn’t seen in decades,” according to town manager, Jon Duke.

The changes have their genesis in the COVID pandemic and in how Rockport’s loyal staff has performed, according to Duke.

“While other communities and counties stepped forward to provide ‘front line worker’ bonuses of $200 a week since the inception of the pandemic, or offered lavish recruitment packages to lure employees away, many Rockport employees stayed true to our town,” Duke wrote in a Nov. 22 preview memo to the board for its Nov. 28 workshop on personnel and salary matters.

 

With a new town personnel policy adopted, Rockport leaders soon will tackle possible salary adjustments. Photo by Jack M. Foley

 “It is now our time to show appreciation for their efforts through this challenging time without gimmicks or sleight of hand tricks, but outright establishing tangible benefits which they and their families can appreciate,” Duke told the board.

And in a comment referencing a recent multi-agency salary survey, and that might augur well for possible upward pay adjustments, Duke added, “we must ensure our employees are paid in recognition of their skill and worth ethic.”

In terms of accrued time off, the Select Board at its Dec. 12 meeting voted unanimously to cap the number of unpaid time off hours employees can claim upon separation and also ended a multi-category-based system of paid time off in favor of a modern, single-category process.

Under the old method, workers were entitled to, accrued, and could bank specific amounts of vacation, sick and earned paid leave based on length of employment. Now, those categories will be combined, and full-time employees will earn and accrue paid Personal Time Off, PTO, which can be used when needed.

New limits for maximums that can be accrued and are owed departing employees depend on length of service. Here is the breakdown in terms of service years and maximum unused hours now allowed: 2 years, 680 hours; 3 to 7 years, 760 hours; 8 to 16 years, 840 hours and 17 or more years, 920 hours. That is 17, 19, 21 and 23 weeks, respectively.

In terms of how many hours of unused time off employees may accrue annually, that also is based on length of employment. Here is how it pencils out by years of service, accrual rate per week and annual maximums now allowed: 2 years, 4.39, 228; 3 to 7 years, 5.16, 268; 8 to 16 years, 5.93, 308; and 17 or more years, 6.70, 348.

Duke will bring the recent salary survey and recommendations for adjustments to the Select Board in the near future. The ladder will be presented against the backdrop of his overall mission statement for updating personnel and benefit policies. It reads, in part, “we are committed to providing competitive wages and benefits, and a great working environment to ensure that (employees) can deliver the needs and services desired by the community.”