By Ed Runyan
People have expressed a desire to help Trumbull County Engineer’s employee Nancy Guerini, 51, get through her bout with cancer by offering to donate sick time to her.
It’s a fairly common practice among workers in other county departments, but county Engineer Randy Smith has taken a position against it.
“There is no policy in place or language in the contract in place that allows for the donation of sick time, and we are unaware of any previous county engineer that has addressed that issue,” says a statement from his office released by Herb Laukhart, director of finance and personnel.
Asked about it directly, Smith said: “If there’s a law in place and a contract, that’s what I’m governed to follow.”
And as to whether he has the latitude to allow something like donated sick leave if it isn’t covered in the contract, Smith said he would not discuss that and would “follow the advice of [legal] counsel.”
Guerini, who started working at the engineer’s office in January 2010, was diagnosed with breast cancer last November and started receiving chemotherapy.
She had used up her sick and vacation time by Dec. 9 and then started using her 12 weeks of unpaid time off guaranteed through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
In the months to come, she reported to work as assistant personnel director most of the time, but still needed Fridays off for chemotherapy treatments, she said.
By July 17, after starting a more aggressive treatment because of growth of a tumor in her liver and having to go off of work altogether, her 12 weeks ran out.
Guerini received a letter July 18 from Smith notifying her that her FMLA time was gone and asking her what her intentions were for returning to work.
Guerini’s physician responded with a letter July 23 saying he estimated Guerini could return to work with no restrictions Oct. 22.
That same day, Guerini asked to be granted a leave of absence, which would have extended her employment with the engineer’s office beyond July 17 without pay.
In a July 24 letter from Smith and Laukhart, Guerini was told she had failed to meet several provisions of the policy manual but that her request for leave would be considered if she put it in writing.
The letter pointed out that Guerini would be responsible for the cost of continuing her medical insurance effective Aug. 1 at a cost of $425.37 per month.
In a July 29 letter Guerini wrote to Smith, she included a letter from a co-worker, James Ford, a foreman. In it, Ford said he would like to donate 300 hours of his accumulated sick time (37.5 work days) to Guerini.
Guerini said in her letter she preferred to use the donated sick time but would “in the alternative” like Smith to consider the leave of absence.
Guerini said she hasn’t heard back from the county engineer’s office and has started paying the $425.37 monthly health care bill.
“There is absolutely no response at all,” Guerini said of Smith’s office.
“I feel hurt about it because if Randy needed me to do something, I would do it without question,” Guerini said. “And now I need help, and I very rarely ask for any help. I’m in a position where I have no income and possibly no insurance.
“It takes an income to pay for [insurance]. I’m scared because I don’t know what the future holds as far as my health care — how I’m going to pay for it.”
Guerini was hired while the previous county engineer, David DeChristofaro, was in office. Guerini’s position is nonunion, she said. Smith became engineer Aug. 16, 2011, after DeChristofaro was forced to resign after being convicted of felony theft for using county resources for personal and political activities.
Donated sick time has been a past practice in the county.
Lt. Pete Lucic of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, a union official, said corrections officer Bruce Gaugler has received donated sick time from co-workers at the sheriff’s office to allow him to remain employed while he has battled illness for more than a year. The contract allowed it, Lucic said.
Bargaining agreements covering most other county workers allow them to donate sick time to co-workers as well, as long as the donating employee retains a minimum of 120 hours, according to one county contract.
The Trumbull County Auditor’s office, which handles payroll for most county workers, reports that during an average year, 40 of the county’s 1,600 employees donate sick time to a co-worker.
The statement from Smth’s office says Ohio and federal law prevents the office from discussing Guerini’s medical issues, but the office is complying with all laws relating to medical leave and other medical issues, such as FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“While we can sympathize with our employees’ personal situations, the law requires us to be uniform in our treatment of our employees,” the statement said.