Blizzard closes courthouse

A special meeting of the Wilkin County commissioners was called Monday, Jan. 8 for the purpose of discussing inclement weather policies and issues for county personnel. 

The Dec. 31, 2018 blizzard closed the Wilkin County Courthouse in Breckenridge, Minnesota, for the first time in recent history.

Although the 1997 floods closed the courthouse, services were still made available at alternate locations. The recent blizzard was different.

A special meeting of the Wilkin County commissioners was called Monday, Jan. 8 for the purpose of discussing inclement weather policies and issues for county personnel. 

Chairman Eric Klindt called the meeting to order, opening with an explanation as to what the county currently has in place for employees during inclement weather with regard to how their pay would be affected.

“The current policy states that if they wanted to not come in for inclement weather, they wouldn’t have to,” Klindt said. “But, you would have to use vacation time or take no pay for that time. Those are currently the only two options available for when the courthouse was open and an employee felt like they didn’t want to come in.”

Discussion was needed, Klindt explained, because some personnel didn’t have vacation time available to take. Some of those personnel may have to come to work because they couldn’t afford to take the time off without pay.

Klindt addressed concerns of how an employee might feel they were receiving unequal treatment based on where they live, and based on the current practice of “the courthouse never closes.” He then turned to past practices, concerning how the highway department and law enforcement were paid in such situations. Klindt explained that employees in the other departments now want to know how they would ultimately be equally paid for the time they had to take off.

“It is an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) if you don’t discuss with each bargaining unit and give other employees the benefit,” Wilkin County Human Resources Director Stephanie Roggenbuck said. “Also, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for exempt employees, if they don’t have any vacation, then they usually have to be paid without them having to make that time up.”

Roggenbuck presented recommendations following her research with other counties and the state of Minnesota. Intense discussion among the commissioners and county employees ensued. The board ultimately voted to approve to pay everyone their day’s wage for the seven hours in which the courthouse was closed on Dec. 31, 2018, on a pro-rated basis as to if they worked or used vacation time.

Any vacation time given will then have to be used no later than a specified time to be determined. 

There were many questions that still need to be addressed when the meeting adjourned. Some included who decides when and if the courthouse is to stay open, what if there is a public safety concern such as no travel advised and what if it is something other than inclement weather, like a gas leak or a bomb scare. These and other considerations will all be addressed with upcoming contract development.

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