Mecklenburg County changed COVID bonus policy 2 days before money went out

Over a hundred Mecklenburg County employees were left out of a stimulus-funded COVID-19 bonus, and Channel 9 has learned that county officials added a stipulation to the bonus just days before the money went out.

Serena Woods is the Deputy Register of Deeds for Mecklenburg County, and she says she’s been dedicated to public service for 26 years. She says that the federal stimulus-funded bonuses announced by Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio would go a long way in recognizing that service.

“I have a granddaughter, her first birthday is coming up so I wanted to go all out on a big birthday party,” Woods said. “I have some other plans to catch up on bills.”

But her plans fell through when she learned in early July that she was excluded from the bonuses. According to a fact sheet obtained by Channel 9, based on her time with the county, Woods would’ve received a Tier 1 bonus of $2,250. Instead, she got nothing, with the county citing a stipulation that “those who exceeded the threshold of 120 hours of Emergency Paid Leave ... will not be eligible to receive the bonus.”

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

At Wednesday night’s county commissioners’ meeting, Woods didn’t hold back when speaking directly to Diorio.

“What was done to your employees, I feel was sneaky and misleading,” Woods said Wednesday. “Not one time did you mention that there were stipulations.”

Channel 9 obtained an email sent to employees on June 23 informing them of the bonuses. It said employees working 20 hours or more would receive money.

But a follow-up email sent on July 6, just two days before the bonuses went out, shows that the county added the stipulation about the emergency paid leave threshold.

Woods says the reason she exceeded the threshold stems from social distancing protocols instituted by managers in the early days of COVID-19.

“We had to A-day, B-day, where one day we were in the office, one group, [and on B-day] we were home,” Woods said.

According to Woods, her team in the Register of Deeds Office wasn’t given any supplies to do their jobs while remote.

“We didn’t have laptops, we weren’t accessible to work from home,” Woods said. “They told us we were using some county emergency funding to just be home on those days.”

READ MORE: Teachers, other school staff in Catawba County to get bonuses

At-large County Commissioner Pat Cotham says she’s already asked the county manager to reconsider the decision about the bonuses.

“To me, that’s troubling, that doesn’t sound like a solid reason,” Cotham said. “Our employees need to feel appreciated and heard and valued.”

After Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Woods says she’s not worried about retaliation after addressing the county manager directly.

“I’m glad that we were able to talk about it and let people know that the county didn’t stand by their word,” Woods said.

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Channel 9 obtained an email between Woods and Diorio. The email, which was sent on July 7, said: “I understand your disappointment about not receiving a bonus. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions that you may not agree with. In this case, I felt strongly that those employees that exceeded the number of COVID leave hours have already received a bonus and should not be eligible for another.”

Statement from Mecklenburg County:

“Mecklenburg County Employees were granted 80 hours of approved COVID leave. If an employee exceeded 120 hours of leave they were not eligible for the COVID bonus which was paid out in July.”