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NM to pay some employees for excess, unused leave

The state Capitol in Santa Fe this spring. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Hundreds of state employees are set to receive some extra pay this month as compensation for annual leave they didn’t use last year amid the pandemic.

The State Personnel Board on Friday unanimously approved a request by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to authorize the payments, which are expected to average about $1,000.

About 810 employees are set to get the money — at a statewide cost of about $850,000 — unless they use their excess leave in the coming weeks. Each employee can be paid for up to 80 hours, and only leave in excess of the state maximum of 240 hours carried over from 2020 is eligible for the program.

In an interview, Ricky Serna, acting director of the State Personnel Office, said the goal is to compensate state employees who had few options for taking time off as New Mexico responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a lot of employees who gave everything they could,” Serna said.

State employees normally face a use-it-or-lose-it decision on any leave accumulated beyond 240 hours, or six weeks.

Serna said the state initially agreed to give employees more time to use their leave, but continually extending the deadline, he said, would only compound the problem because employees are still earning new leave on top of whatever they already had.

Each state agency, Serna said, has enough money in its budget to handle the payments.

The payment of unused leave applies to executive branch employees, including classified employees and appointees of the governor.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the governor requested the change in leave policy to show appreciation for state workers and to ensure they weren’t penalized for “working nonstop on behalf of the state throughout the most challenging period state government has seen in the last century.”

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