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Mecklenburg changes COVID testing rules, will deny back pay for suspended employees

·3 min read

Mecklenburg County will change its COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated employees after officials described a “bumpy” rollout of its testing protocol.

The county does not require COVID-19 vaccination for most employees, unless they work for Mecklenburg County Public Health.

But the county requires weekly testing for people who are not vaccinated, and began enforcing those rules last week. As of last week, more than 350 county employees were suspended for violating the testing rules.

County Manager Dena Diorio said at Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting that the changes should alleviate any remaining confusion about how to get tested and and submit proof.

Starting Sunday, county employees who are not vaccinated will need to upload a proof of a PCR test — not the test results — once a week. They are only required to show the test results if they are positive.

In addition, the proof of a test can be submitted any day from Sunday to Saturday, providing employees with “maximum flexibility to submit to testing at a time that works with their schedule,” according to a report from the county that outlines the changes.

Of the 350 employees who were suspended, 270 have been taken off the suspension list after correcting their testing or vaccination requirements. Eighty-six remain suspended, Diorio said.

For those 270 employees, removed from the list since Friday, Diorio showed little patience and said she was against providing them with back pay, even though she acknowledged that the rollout was “bumpy.”

“The people who got jammed up at the end are the people who did not take the time to read the information and put together an appropriate plan,” she said.

She said employees had adequate time to learn the rules beforehand. The county announced the testing requirement Aug. 2, with those not vaccinated required to show a negative COVID-19 test result to Human Resources starting Sept. 7.

The county has nearly 5,200 full-time employees.

Commissioner Mark Jerrell told the Observer last week that he believed many employees faced problems uploading their test results and accessing tests. Lines for COVID-19 tests have been long in recent weeks, as the demand for tests increased.

The number of suspended employees dropped last week from more than 500 to 356, after the county began to verify whether some employees were wrongly suspended.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said she favored providing some of the 270 employees who corrected their information with back pay, if they had genuinely misunderstood the rules and quickly corrected their mistakes.

Other commissioners disagreed, saying it is under Diorio’s authority to deal with the discipline of county personnel.

Diorio said anyone who believes they were wrongly suspended can file a complaint with Human Resources.

Mecklenburg changes its COVID-19 test requirements

Under the changes announced Tuesday, employees can get tested during regular breaks in the work day, provided that they have the approval of their supervisor and that the testing does not interfere with their job duties.

Of the 86 suspended employees, 67 are part-time employees who work in the Park and Recreation Department; 17 are full-time employees in other departments; and two are part-time employees who work in other departments.

Nearly 74% of county employees were vaccinated as of Friday, compared to 54% of all Mecklenburg County residents.

Diorio said the 86 employees who have still not complied have not yet been fired. The county has been met with “radio silence” when trying to contact them, she said.

“Employees who are in this situation have put themselves there,” she said.

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