WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TX — Williamson County EMS employees who lose work hours from contracting the coronavirus while on duty now have more protection for their lost pay.
A Williamson County spokeswoman said this week seven out of the 28 EMS workers who were, or are currently under quarantine have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease linked to the coronavirus. Three EMS workers are no longer in quarantine and have returned to work, she added.
County commissioners on May 26 voted 5-0 to change the county’s workers compensation policy to allow affected EMS employees to supplement some of their lost pay through accruals of their paid time off.
After commissioners took their vote during their virtual meeting, County Judge Bill Gravell thanked first responders and EMS workers.
“This court has got your back. You have worked diligently, you have worked hard, you have risked your lives in the middle of a pandemic and I want to say thank you for doing that,” Gravell said.
Human Resources director Rebecca Clemons, who spoke with commissioners at their meeting, said EMS workers can collect 70% of what they would have been paid in a 13-week period through workers’ compensation.
Clemons said the federal government has mandated that all county employees receive 80 hours of paid time off for certain qualifying COVID-19 events.
Clemons said EMS workers, under the changes approved Tuesday and with the additional paid time off granted under new federal regulations, can make up for the remainder of their lost pay.
“This would allow us to not only pay the paramedics what they would be receiving through workers’ comp, but to allow them to make up that difference in that 13-week lookback rate,” Clemons told commissioners.
She said employees who lose work hours because of being quarantined are put on administrative leave with pay.
To collect workers’ compensation from the county for work-related COVID-19 exposure, employee’s cases are reviewed by the county’s insurance carrier to determine whether or not the infection was caused by a work-related incident, Clemons said.
She told commissioners that she would recommend similar changes to other departments’ compensation policies if the need arises.
“For instance, if we had something at the jail or juvenile services that another department where it is deemed a workers compensation case, and we have a positive COVID-19 test, then I would bring that forward as well and recommend the same thing for those staff,” she said.
She told the American-Statesman that county officials wanted to be as flexible as possible with its compensation policy while complying with state and federal regulations.
“Many of our county staff are essential personnel and on the front line during this pandemic,” Clemons said in a written statement. “The Commissioners Court of Williamson County has taken this action to ensure our employee population is compensated appropriately during this time.”
Last week, KVUE-TV reported that 13 Round Rock firefighters had been put under quarantine after the department learned that they had come into contact with Williamson County EMS workers who had tested positive for COVID-19.
A Round Rock spokeswoman said that two more firefighters had been put under quarantine since May 19, but said that the new cases were not work-related.
She said all 15 firefighters have tested negative for COVID-19. One Round Rock firefighter still remains in quarantine, the spokeswoman said.
Billy Colburn, president of the Round Rock Association of Professional Firefighters, told the Statesman that all of the firefighters who were put under quarantine were fully compensated for the work hours they lost.
“We’re back functioning how we were functioning before they were quarantined,” Colburn said.
Colburn said he believes the fire department has implemented some effective protocols to protect its first responders, but said more could be done to keep employees safe.
He said many of the added measures were recommended by the association, which has about 150 current active firefighters who are members. The department currently has about 160 firefighters, Colburn said.
“It’s not the fault of the paramedics who are running their calls. We just need to tighten our protocols up,” Colburn said.