For employees of the Tennessee Lottery, it could pay not to get sick.
Employees can build up sick days and be paid for half of the unused ones when they leave. They earn one day per month, and there's no maximum on how much can be accrued or rolled over from year to year.
Unused vacation time can be built up in a similar manner. Employees can be paid for up to three years' worth when they leave.
The Tennessee Lottery's vacation and sick policy resembles what Rebecca Paul, the lottery's president and chief executive officer, put in place for all employees at the Georgia Lottery. That policy has come under scrutiny in Georgia by state politicians worried that revenues won't cover all college scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs at some point.
Yesterday, state Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, who sponsored the constitutional amendment for a lottery, criticized the Tennessee Lottery's vacation and sick leave policy as well as the five weeks of vacation that Paul and her executive team are to receive.
He said a five-week vacation benefit approved by the lottery board recently seems "extraordinarily generous."
"My concern is we don't have something like what happened in Georgia happen in Tennessee," said Cohen, who in the past had been one of Paul's biggest advocates.
The legislator said he hopes the board will prohibit Paul and other top executives from accumulating generous amounts of vacation and sick time, saying he was disturbed about reports that the practice cost the Georgia lottery almost $300,000 when Paul and several lottery vice presidents quit to come to Tennessee. Paul was paid $125,139 for 24 weeks of vacation time, including 18 weeks rolled over from previous years, when she left last fall.
Cohen said lottery board Chairman Denny Bottorff told him that the board adopted some benefits packages but will study them. Cohen said he prefers that the state comptroller do the study.
The package the Tennessee lottery board has approved sounds a lot like what Georgia offered Paul, Cohen said.
"I hope the board has a conservative benefits and leave package," the legislator said. "Eventually we'll have to pay this money out. We need to put the students first."
Paul's five weeks off in Tennessee is less than the six weeks vacation she had in Georgia every year.
But it's better than some other top private-sector executives.
Gaylord Entertainment Co. Chief Executive Colin Reed has four weeks of vacation, as does David Perdue, Dollar General's CEO.
Reed earns a base salary of $650,000 plus bonuses that can push his compensation beyond $1 million a year. He also received a $500,000 signing bonus.
Paul has a base salary of $350,000 and could earn another $500,000 this year for starting the lottery games by certain dates and hitting the deadline of raising $88 million by July to fund the first college scholarships backed by the lottery money.
Bottorff said, "We looked at what other corporations did and the state of Tennessee. We may have looked at Georgia, but that wasn't the focus."
The board decided on the current benefits package to ensure that the lottery could compete for employees with the private sector, Bottorff added.
Bottorff said the reason for allowing carry-over of vacation and some sick time is so people don't have to use up vacation in the middle of a big project at year's end when it would help to have employees stay on the job.
Here's how the lottery's leave policy stacks up with some others:
With Tennessee state government, employees can accrue vacation days and roll them over into the next year, but that tops out at a certain point.
For example, employees with between 10 and 20 years of service can accumulate up to 39 days and be paid for the unused time when they leave, according to state personnel policy.
State employees aren't paid for accumulated sick leave, though.
In corporate America, many companies have shifted vacation policy toward a "use it or lose it" standard. The trend also has been to merge vacation with sick days into an overall category of "paid time-off."
One of Nashville's largest employers, HCA, has paid time-off but allows limited accrual. Employees there can build up to 150% of what they qualify for during a year. Someone who earns 10 days can build up to 15. Once the limit is reached, employees stop accruing days.
HCA adheres to another trend allowing the sale of vacation days back to the company. Employees must retain at least 80 hours of vacation but can sell anything above that for 90 cents on the dollar. Senior level executives, however, can't sell back their unused vacation.