Personnel records of nearly 400 Department of Human Resources workers are being reviewed to determine if they are eligible for early retirement under a recently approved U.S. Civil Service Commission decision that redefined their jobs as hazardous duty.
Hazardous duty status, a designation usually applied to law enforcement officers, was approved last fall for DHR counselors, social workers, teachers, housekeepers, nurses and maintenance people who work daily at Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill, the city's two juvenile institutions in Laurel, Md.; the Receiving Home, which is a juvenile detention center, and youth group homes, which are scattered throughout the city.
Helen Horton, a program chief in the DHR personnel and training division, said DHR workers received the new classification "because of the wear and tear on employes that are hired."
Some employes who work with adult offenders at the DHR forensic psychiatry unit are also included under the new classfication.
In recent years, DHR workers have reported that they have been physically and verbally assaulted at the institutions and youth group homes. Horton, however, questioned whether group home workers should be included in the new designation because those workers are supposed to provide a family atmosphere for the young people.
"When something happens in a department, everybody wants to be covered," said Horton. "Those children in the youth group homes are very carefully screened." Horton said she had never visited a youth group home.
"The (group home) employes felt they should be covered. Perhaps they really shouldn't be."
The employes working in hazardous duty jobs can now retire five years earlier and their pensions will be higher because the employes, by law, must pay more money into their retirement pension plan than other civil service employes. Regular civil service employes pay 7 percent of their weekly pay for retirement benefits. Hazardous duty employes must pay 7.5 per cent of their pay, retroactive from January 1975, the date the 7.5 percent deduction became effective. Previously their deductions were also 7 percent of their weekly salary.
Horton said DHR employes have the option of paying the amount in full or in monthly installments, which would average about $50 per month.
The regular mandatory retirement age, which the DHR workers can still use, is 55 with 20 years of cumulative service. The early retirement age is 50 with 20 years of cumulative service. Employes who wish to work longer can receive a special exception from the mayor's office if they are less than 60 years old.
Horton said three of the 400 workers to be evaluated have already been told they are eligible for early retirement. No one has asked to retire early, Horton said. However, workers who retired before the program went into effect have asked if they can apply for the new retirement benefits, Horton said. For most of the employes, this would mean nearly a 14 percent increase in their pensions, she said.
DHR Director Albert P. Russo praised the program and the efforts by government and union officials to have the classification approved.
"For several years, they've been trying to get this clause in place," Russo said. "Records show more assaults occur in juvenile institutions than other facilities."
William Barr, director of the administration that includes the bureau that administers services to the juveniles, said he is not expecting to lose large numbers of staff members to early retirement. However, "we still carry vacancies (at the institutions). We'll probably have to get some exceptional help from the Civil Service Commission," to fill positions at the facilities located 22 miles outside of the city.
"We're gearing up for that," he said.
As an aside, Barr added, "For eight years, the most hazardous job in the city has belonged to the director of human resources."