Massachusetts probation officer Sean Glennon maxed out his sick leave this month caring for his daughter, a toddler receiving chemotherapy for a brain tumor. But now his co-workers can donate leave time to him thanks to an act of the Legislature.
Massachusetts is one of 18 states offering leave-share banks that let state employees help colleagues dealing with long-term illness. The state's policy covers only employees, not family members, so the Legislature passed a private bill signed by the governor in March to allow Glennon to use donated leave to care for 19-month-old Avery.
A summary of state leave benefits:
Source: Get Well Soon Report, National Partnership for Women & Families
Leave-sharing is a job benefit states are offering more often than the private sector with an eye toward retaining an aging state workforce, especially the 44 percent of state employees age 45 and older who otherwise might look toward retirement. The leave banks, pioneered by public universities, cost little compared to states' potential expense in providing public assistance for jobless, penniless sick people.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) had at first refused to sign the bill to help Glennon. But he changed his mind after learning of the Dedham District Court employee's situation, said Romney spokewoman Laura Nicoll.
"My daughter's situation brought it to light that it's not something that gets abused. It's families in pretty bad straits that need access to this," said Glennon, who is a member of the state's sick leave bank that provides all employees up to 120 extra days off if they donate one day to it. If the bank would routinely cover workers caring for family members, it would make life easier for employees and stop tying up the Legislature with private bills, Glennon said.
Leave-sharing has obvious benefits to employees, but such programs also may perk up states' bottom lines, said Joy Cameron, a policy analyst at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices who focuses on aging issues. When catastrophic illness strikes, leave-sharing helps older and ailing employees keep their jobs and helps prevent them from spending down their savings to qualify for Medicaid, the pricey state-run program that gives medical benefits to indigent and low-income people, Cameron said.
"Leave banks are the easy and most compassionate answer," said Cameron, who is studying variations on state leave-sharing such as Oklahoma's policy of giving extra weight to days donated by higher-salaried workers.
Two states, Delaware and Montana, offer employees both a sick-leave bank and direct donation of days to a co-worker who needs to take extra leave, according to the " Get Well Soon " report issued last year by the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group that promotes family-leave policies.
Twenty-two states allow direct donation to individual employees instead of offering collective banks, the report said. Elsewhere, such as in South Dakota, employees can receive extended leave on a case-by-case basis.
Sick-leave banks have minimal cost to employers and make a large bureaucracy seem smaller, according to human resources experts.
"It humanizes such a large group. It brings the employee base much closer together. There are many who want to help out a colleague in any way they can," said Frank Scanlan, spokesman for the Society for Human Resource Management.