In a memo to city employees, Wichita Falls announced a new policy of making extended sick leave available only to those who are considered “vaccinated” by the city from COVID-19.
The City of Wichita Falls operates a “sick leave” pool for municipal employees, where unused time off can be “donated” to other employees. Historically, such pools are put in place to allow employees to help coworkers needing additional paid time off to cope with an illness they themselves or a family member are suffering from. A city employee explained to Texas Scorecard that the pool was, indeed, created to assist employees and families “with catastrophic conditions” or “injuries” who have exhausted their paid leave balances trying to get better or are helping a family member get better.
The city’s new policy, according to an email (below) sent by the city manager’s executive assistant, adds new qualifiers to which employees can access the “pool” when they need “extended leave related to COVID-19 illnesses.”
“For employees who have contracted COVID-19, unvaccinated employees who contract the virus and who have expended all leave accruals are not eligible for the sick pool,” according to the new policy of the City of Wichita Falls.
However, the policy adds, “Vaccinated employees who experience a breakthrough infection of COVID-19 are eligible for the sick pool.”
As a reminder, this is a pool of time donated by city employees – not time issued by the city itself.
The employee who shared the information asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals from the city manager and other top city hall officials.
Wichita Falls’ city manager, Darron Leiker, was not available for questions about the policy, or the overall work environment at City Hall where employees fear reprisals. The public affairs office asked not to be quoted on the issue, and the city’s Human Resources division did not return a call as promised.
One senior city official referred to the “sick pool” as a “luxury.” Another employee said the policy makes them “less interested in donating [time off] because I want the time I donate to help someone in need of it, whether they are vaccinated or not.”
“I think restrictions are necessary to determine legitimate need,” the employee added. “But not when they discriminate against someone for their personal choice in healthcare.”
When contacted by Texas Scorecard, Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said he knew nothing about the policy implemented by the city manager.
Mayor Santellana is in his third and final three-year term as mayor of Wichita Falls, a city of 129,305 people – a decline from the 2010 population count of 131,500.
UPDATE: Includes comments from an additional city employee.