Are Kane County employees taking improper medical leave?

New HR head wants to hire outside firm to oversee program

Kane County may crack down on employees taking improper medical leave from their government jobs, a problem that may cost local taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

The issue came to light Tuesday. Sylvia Wetzel, who leads the county's human resources department, asked for an additional $17,400 when pitching her 2018 budget to the county board. The money would pay for an outside company to administer the county's medical leave program. It would be a new annual cost, but Wetzel said the expense would translate into annual savings.

The county has 1,300 employees. At any given time, about 75 of them are on some form of leave. Most of the time off comes through the federal Family Medical Leave Act. But there are many facets to that law, including 12-month intermittent leave and military service obligations.

“There is frustration and confusion in the extensive paperwork required for this leave across all the different departments of the county,” Wetzel said. “It's layers of complexity.”

Wetzel joined the county earlier this year. She developed “concerns” after auditing some of the employee leave requests. Wetzel let out a telling sigh when board members asked how well the county oversees employees on leave now.

“The awareness about tracking and managing this program appropriately is something that leaves a lot to be desired,” Wetzel said. “Managing that can cost a lot of money if you're not doing it right.”

On average, employees on leave account for about 6 percent of the county's payroll. The most current payroll numbers on the county's open government portal show wages and benefits cost the county $96.4 million in 2015. Six percent of that total is about $5.78 million.

Wetzel said hiring an outside agency to oversee the county's leave program will bring an objective eye to determining who should be on leave and who shouldn't.

“We are going to see who is on leave, should they be on leave and when they should be coming back with this plan,” she said.

“It's very important that we do that.”

Members of the county board committee tasked with the initial review of 2018 budget requests agreed.

“If this plan saves even one-quarter of 1 percent, that would pay for this cost 10 times over,” said county board member Bill Lenert.

The full county board must still vote on Wetzel's budget and request before she can hire the outside agency.

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