Woolwich seeking answers on Maine’s new EPL law

Fri, 02/26/2021 - 2:00pm

    Woolwich officials are struggling to understand the state’s new Earned Paid Leave law which went into effect Jan. 1 and establishes a minimum standard for paid time off for part-time and stipend positions.

    “For a small-town office like ours it creates a budgeting and book keeping headache,” David King select board chairman told the Wiscasset Newspaper. “We’re in the process of putting together our budget for the coming year and can only estimate how much we might need to comply with this.”

    The select board is hoping to get answers from the state Department of Labor. “We met with them remotely and are following up with a letter listing some of our concerns,” said King.

    Select board member Allison Hepler provided the newspaper with a copy of the letter she wrote on the board’s behalf to Senator Joseph Rafferty and Rep. Mike Sylvester, Maine Senate and House chairs of Joint Standing Committee on Labor and Housing. Along with serving on the select board, Hepler also serves in the state legislature, House seat 53 serving the towns of Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond and part of Woolwich.

    “Kim Dalton our town administrator brought up a number of concerns about the new law,” said Helper. “ What I’m finding is a lot of other small town offices are asking some of the same questions and have similar concerns.”

    Woolwich, Hepler continued, has only three full-time employees and relies on part-time and stipend personnel to carry out a number of town services. These include the public health officer, animal control officer, emergency management administrator, and code enforcement officer she states in the letter.

    “The town office doesn’t record their hours and doing so adds a new level of oversight and cost,” she writes.

    A larger problem concerns the town’s Emergency Management Services. “Because they’re paid hourly and more than minimum wage when they respond to calls, record keeping is easier,” adds Hepler. She adds providing first responders with Earned Paid Leave creates an “uncertain and unpredictable budget situation.”

    “We don’t know what the cost will be but are confident it will be more than we budgeted for. We look at this in terms of paying out the Earned Paid Leave since the nature of these positions makes it impossible for them to instead take the time off since they work as needed,” she explains.

    In an email to the newspaper Town Administrator Kim Dalton said stipend positions have previously been paid monthly without submitting time cards. Some like the health officer might go weeks without doing any actual work. “How are we supposed to keep track of their hours? The honor system?” she asks.

    Dalton added Woolwich EMS personnel are paid at a variety of different scales depending if they are on call during the day, at night, over the weekend or on a holiday. She said this brings up the question of what rate they’ll be paid when they’ve accrued 40 hours of EPL. The state has set the rate at $12.10 an hour.

    King said he believes state officials had the right intentions when they passed the EPL law but were thinking more about businesses then town employees.

    “I doubt the state’s law makers ever considered the kinds of questions we’re asking,” he added. “To be quite honest, I’m not sure just what we’re going to do to address this, which is why we’re trying to get some direction from the state.

    Maine’s new EPL benefit is expected to impact roughly 85 percent of the state’s workforce. It applies to employers with at least 10 workers (seasonal excluded) employed for more than 120 days any calendar year. Eligible workers accrue one hour for every 40 hours worked with a maximum annual accrual of 40 hours. They must be paid the same base pay rate received immediately prior to taking leave.