More than 100 Meck County employees excluded from bonuses for recognition during pandemic

CHARLOTTE — At least three Mecklenburg County employees told Channel 9 they were eliminated from receiving bonuses the county gave out in recognition of work performed during the pandemic. Those bonuses were funded through American Rescue Plan stimulus dollars. We’ve now learned those bonuses were withheld from more than 100 employees, a decision one county leader said is unfair.

This Mecklenburg County employee, who asked that we protect their identity, says they were excited when commissioners approved a $2.2 billion budget in June.

“I thought it was great,” the employee said. “I thought it was something good for all the employees who worked during the pandemic.”

The bonuses ranged from $650 to $2,250 for employees who worked through the pandemic.

“It was gonna make a big difference,” the employee said.

However, the county worker got an update about the status of their share of the money.

“We received an email,” they explained. “I guess the people that was disqualified from receiving the bonus and I was one of them.”

When we asked the county why, they sent a statement: “The county used a portion of the ARPA funds to pay employees bonuses in recognition of work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic. One hundred and twenty one employees were ineligible to receive bonuses because they used more than 120 hours of emergency paid leave.”

“It was our supervisors and upper management who told us we had to use a certain amount of time,” the county employee added. “They made us use a certain amount of time and that’s where we’re confused.”

And they say their own fight with the pandemic made the situation even more confusing and upsetting. “I was out for COVID for over week and didn’t get paid for that and didn’t realize what would happen,” they said. “I had to use my personal sick time, which I didn’t realize but when it came down to my bonus, that’s when everything was put together.”

They also say their efforts to get clarity from supervisors went nowhere.

“My supervisor directed me to her manager then her manager really honestly couldn’t provide any details,” the employee explained. “I also contacted HR, spoke to someone in HR, and it’s been over two weeks, haven’t heard.”

At-large Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham says she doesn’t think withholding the bonuses was a good decision.

“I was concerned from the beginning about it, and I did contact the county manager a week or so ago,” Cotham said. “Especially because these were federal dollars and this was kind of put together kinda quickly and I was concerned about communication. That people understood what they were supposed to do or not do.”

Cotham now worries about the message withholding the bonuses will send and not just among the county’s workforce.

“How is this going to help recruiting,” Cotham posed. “Are more people going to want to work for the county after they hear about this?”

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We also spoke with Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell. He expects commissioners will want to know from county manager Dena Diorio more about this issue, including what was in the fine print of those bonuses, when the board meets on Aug. 3.

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