Policy: Childcare leave not offered to VB’s ’emergency responders’ during COVID-19

Virginia Beach

Photo by the VBFD Multimedia Services Unit © 2019 – City of Virginia Beach Fire Department.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A policy recently adopted by the City of Virginia Beach does not allow emergency responders to take paid leave to care for their children while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The “Public Health Emergency Operations and Leave Policy” was adopted on March 13 in response to the impacts of COVID-19 on city operations. 

The policy outlines the regulations for taking medical and childcare-related leave for full- and part-time Virginia Beach employees during a public health emergency, like COVID-19. The policy is being updated as the city gets guidance from the Department of Labor, said Acting City Manager Thomas Leahy.

The policy has also been updated as a result of the April 1 passage of the federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act, Leahy said.

Virginia Beach officials gave 10 On Your Side a copy of the policy on Friday. 

The policy allows many full-time employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for their children while schools and daycares are closed due to COVID-19. The leave counts against employees’ family and medical leave balance, and can be used if no other childcare options are available to them and they are not able to telecommute. There are also rules that apply to part-time workers, according to the policy. 

The policy specifically states that emergency responders are not eligible to take public health emergency childcare leave. 

The policy defines emergency responders as “employees that are considered necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort, and nutrition of patients, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.” 

Emergency responders in Virginia Beach include: 

  • Law enforcement officers 
  • Firefighters 
  • Emergency Medical Services personnel 
  • Emergency medical technicians 
  • 911 operators 
  • Juvenile Detention Center personnel 
  • Department of Human Services Behavior Health and Developmental Services Division healthcare workers like physicians, nurses, psychologists, intermediate care facility personnel and residential facility personnel 
  • Other healthcare treatment providers 
  • Public works
  • Public utilities
  • Information and technology

Leahy said he’s spoken with the leaders of other Hampton Roads cities who said they planned to implement a similar leave policy with a similar childcare exemption for emergency responders; however, he cannot confirm if any particular cities have implemented a similar policy as those decisions are made by the governing bodies of individual localities.

10 On Your side also spoke exclusively with Leahy about a letter he wrote to Virginia Beach City employees.

In the letter, Leahy addressed what some employees have told 10 On your Side is called “hazard pay.” Leahy wrote that in the past when the city has faced emergencies, like hurricanes, most Virginia Beach employees were allowed to stay at home and receive their regular pay, while those who worked received twice their regular pay. 

“This emergency is different than anything we have ever faced. Potentially, it could have more impact upon us and our residents than all of the previous emergencies combined,” Leahy wrote. 

During a typical emergency, only a small number of Virginia Beach employees have to work. The cost of paying them hazard pay has usually amounted to about $300,000 a day for a short period of time, Leahy wrote. 

Leahy wrote that during the COVID-19 emergency most Virginia Beach employees will be required to work, and many will be able to telecommute from home. He wrote that because most employees will be working, the cost of providing hazard pay for city employees could amount to between $18 million and $27 million a month.  

“The bottom line is that during a long-term municipal closure we are not going to be able to pay employees who are required to work twice their regular pay,” Leahy wrote. “If you are required to work – and most of you will be – you will be paid your regular pay plus any applicable overtime.” 

The city is analyzing the economic impact of COVID-19 on its current and future budgets, and expects a significant loss of meal, hotel, and amusement tax dollars. Officials are also considering the possibility of economic loss in general sales and personal property taxes if COVID-19 results in a recession in America. 

“Revenue reduction in the middle-ground scenario for March thru [sic] June 2020 could be $33 million,” Leahy wrote. 

Leahy also wrote that some employees will not be able to be reassigned during COVID-19 closures, and that those who cannot work through no fault of their own will continue to be paid. He wrote that he has no plans for layoffs or furloughs for Virginia Beach employees during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“If you are idled due to no fault of your own, you will be paid your regular rate of pay,” he wrote. “As to how long we can maintain this, I can’t say. I wish I could – but I can’t.” 

Leahy has ordered spending reductions to the city’s current budget and has advised Virginia Beach City Council to defer certain expenditures in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 to protect employees’ jobs. 

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