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Gov to directors: Make your employees take their annual leave

Use it or lose it

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is looking at proposing new legislation that would make a “simple law” when it comes to annual leave for government employees, saying people — including attorneys — have their own interpretation of current law.

The governor’s comment was made during a recent cabinet meeting, where he revealed that he knows of some people with around 2,000 leave hours. And the governor’s statement followed a presentation on required leave hours by Human Resources Director Le’i Sonny Thompson, saying that an employee can only carry over to the next year 480 leave hours — or 60 days of annual leave.

“Anything above that, you will lose it by the end of January, if you don’t take it,” he explained. For example, he said that this coming January, by the end of January, “we ask that all supervisors and directors make sure that if your people have that much amount of access leave — more than 60 days or 460 hours — you need to allow time... to have them take their leave, or otherwise, they’re going to lose it.”

One director revealed that he has an employee, retiring early next year who currently has about 700 leave hours. Le’i replied, “I don’t know how this individual was able to maintain” those many hours in the books when only 480 hours can be carried over to the next year.

“You need to allow them (employees) to take leave” because any access over 480 annually is lost, Le’i said.

Lolo suggested that directors start working on people to take leave, saying that this has been an issue since day one of the administration dealing with leave hours.

“We know that there are employees with some 2,000 or 3,000 hours of leave,” he said, and echoed Le’I, saying, “I don’t know how people can reach 2,000 or 3,000 hours of leave when the law is in place, that you can only carry over to the next year so many leave hours.”

Lolo said Human Resources has sent letters to every government employee to take his/ her excess leave hours or lose them at the end of the year. Additionally, it’s the director’s responsibility to tell employees to take their leave hours in excess of what is said in the law.

The governor said some employees have the mindset that they don’t want to take leave with the excuse that there is still a lot of work to be done at the office. “Well let them face the fact that if they don’t take leave, you lose the excess leave and that is the law.”

Lolo added there are so many problems with this issue due to the lack of communication between the directors and employees. “If this issue is clearly explained, employees will understand.”

He said, “What we need to do is introduce a simple law to address this issue. We need a simple definition of the law. We need to clarify the law,” and reiterated that it is the director’s responsibility “to have employee take that break every year.”

Governor Lolo said he has asked his legal team to review the current statute and come up with a simple way to interpret the law as well as a definition “in order to make it easy to enforce.”

According to the governor, the current law “is so hard to enforce” because everyone has their own interpretation of it. He wants a simple proposed law that can be sent to the Fono for their approval and it would take care of this issue, which has also been a concern raised by the US Department of Labor.

Annual leave hours have been the subject of at least five presentations by Human Resources in the past year during cabinet meetings. It has also been the subject of many questions raised by lawmakers in the last two years as their constituents complain that the government is not paying their accrued annual leave.