A lot of good jobs come with benefits that allow employees to take paid sick time and vacation. Government work is very generous in this area.
In Florida, if state employees don't use their days, they can be banked and converted into cash when they leave. That's important to Mike Ebersole, who works for the Florida Department of Transportation in the Sarasota Operations Center.
"We haven't had a raise in seven years, so to have that little bit of a cushion when we do retire is a benefit," says Ebersole.
The benefit of cashing out deferred sick and vacation time for employees with 10 years or more of service costs taxpayers millions.
FOX 13 obtained the records, and in fiscal year 2011-2012, Florida paid out $1,239,834 in accumulated sick time to employees in the Department of Transportation who left the agency.
The largest pay out, however, was in the Department of Corrections. The state paid $2,406,601, according to records provided by Florida's Department of Management Services.
That troubles Florida State Representative Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach).
"When people leave, it's hard dollars we are giving them," Mayfield said. "We've paid out anywhere from $41 million to $43 (million) and that's the average for the last three years. So it does cost hard dollars that we could put back into public education."
Mayfield says state workers deserve a raise, but taxpayers deserve a break and should not have to pay out for sick leave and vacation days accumulated over time. The rules allow workers to accrue 18 weeks of vacation and sick time that would be paid in a lump sum when they leave.
Mayfield says sick time should be used when a worker is sick, not as a savings account for retirement. And when it comes to vacation, she believes state workers should be forced to use it or lose it.
"I've had so many small businesses and companies come to me and say, ‘look, our employees don't get this. Our employees, we carry sick leave, but we don't allow them to pay it out when they leave," Mayfield says.
Jeff Carnes is a labor lawyer in Tampa. He believes the issue is getting a lot of attention now because Florida must account for the liability on paper, and it's more than a half billion dollars.
"So now these appear as budget items, whereas before they were just there," says Carnes, who quickly points out, "It was perfectly okay when it was to the advantage of the employer to negotiate this arrangement."
Representative Mayfield wants to change the law and plans to introduce legislation in the next session to make the rules for vacation and sick time more closely mirror the private sector.
"We have kicked the can down the road so long, someone has to step up or we're going to end up like Washington," Mayfield said.
Mike Ebersole is banking on the fact that any change won't change his pay out, because like thousands of state workers he's counting on the fact that his road to retirement is paved with a cash payout for unused sick and vacation time.
"When we signed up, that was the benefit package we had. I don't feel they should be able to change things in the middle of the game," he said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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