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Before official layoffs, 15 Federal Way city employees take paid administrative leave

Federal Way city employees scheduled to be laid off come 2011 were placed on paid administrative leave this past week.

A total of 17.13 positions, 15 of them occupied, are to be cut at the end of the year in an effort to help close the city's nearly $9 million gap in the 2011-2012 budget. Employees in the positions were offered, beginning Nov. 1, the option to stay on with the City of Federal Way until the end of the year or take leave, city manager Brian Wilson said. All chose to take leave. They will remain employees of the city and will be paid their regular salaries through Dec. 31.

Having to see so many employees leave is difficult, Wilson said. Some of them have been with the City of Federal Way for more than a decade. They've dedicated a lot of time and hard work to Federal Way. But, just as in the private sector, the economy is forcing the city to make arduous decisions.

"This really is tough; it's terrible," Wilson said. "Nobody wants to go through it."

The city council could still vote, at its Dec. 7 meeting, to retain some or all of the staff members facing layoffs. If positions are saved, the employees on administrative leave will return at the beginning of the new year to resume their jobs. Wilson said he does not foresee this occurring.

"I'm not anticipating that happening very much, if at all," he said.

Advanced notice

The city prefers to give its employees 60 days notice prior to a layoff, Wilson said. Notices were presented this month to allow for that grace period. A later notice date would roll wages associated with the 15 positions over into 2011, which the city cannot afford, Wilson said.

The notice period is not listed in a contract, but it is the respectful and fair thing to do, Wilson said. Once notice has been given, administrative leave is available. The leave is consistent with what has been offered to past employees departing the City of Federal Way due to budget constraints, spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. Layoffs, to a much lesser extent, took place in August 2009 and this past January.

"Some of it is just doing the right thing," Wilson said. "Some of it is our past practices as a city."

In taking the paid administrative leave, the staff members have each waived their right to sue the city for anything pertaining to the separation. The city is being a good steward of the taxpayers' money in this regard, Wilson said. The waiver is a precautionary act that could save the city thousands of dollars if any of the employees felt they were let go for undue reason and wanted to pursue litigation.

"All it takes is one lawsuit," he said.

Impacts at City Hall

Fewer staff members will be left to provide services through the holiday season and into the future. Both the public and staff employees will feel the impacts. There is some reshuffling of work taking place. Decisions regarding if and when remaining employees are allowed to take paid vacations will be worked out within each staff member's respective department, Wilson said.

"Everything pertaining to this budget has been communicated, regarding the impacts of what these changes mean," he said.

Helping hand

As a gesture of appreciation for their service, they city has set aside $62,500 to help laid off employees find other work. The money could be available to the 15 employees on administrative leave plus eight that were laid off in 2009 and earlier this year, said Jean Stanley, interim human resources director.

The money will go toward pairing the departed staff members with professional outplacement services. They will have access to job counseling and referrals; sessions providing networking, resume and interviewing tips; job finding strategies; interview coaching and more, Stanley said. The contract is with Janus Group LLC, and laid off staff will have access to 12 hours or a year's worth of assistance following separation from the city, she said.

"These employees have provided great service and have done a tremendous job for us," Wilson said. "We want to do whatever we can do help them as we move forward."

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