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VOL. 123 | NO. 144 | Thursday, July 24, 2008

Probate Court Alters Workweek

By Rebekah Hearn

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Shelby County Probate Court will switch to a new schedule and workweek on a trial basis for its employees effective Aug. 1.

The court’s hours, which currently are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will change to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Employees will work four-day workweeks instead of five. Four employees will be on a rotating schedule, which will give each employee one extra day off a week. The four employees in the management area of the court also will work four days a week, although their days off will be set rather than rotated.

The Probate Court will remain open five days a week.

Encouraged employees

Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas said the four-day workweek will help employees save money in light of the fact they did not receive a pay increase this year while their insurance premiums rose.

“We’re just trying to get innovative,” Thomas said. “Some of my employees came to me and asked me to think about it, and so I told them to work it out, and they came to me with a proposal.”

Principal Court Clerk Donna Fielder, who originally thought of the idea, said she heard some discussion about other workplaces moving to a rotating schedule.

“The building is open early enough and late enough that we could stay longer, and we’re a small office, so we could do a rotating-type schedule, where people could work a 10-hour shift instead of eight hours, and have a day off,” Fielder said.

Fielder lives in Bartlett, and said the “saving a day of gas is well worth it.”

Four of the five employees who work the front counter at the court are participating in the rotating schedule change. The fifth employee carpools to work with her husband, who also works Downtown, and so changing her schedule actually would be detrimental to her rather than beneficial, Fielder said.

The four “up-front” employees each will have a different day off each week – Monday one week, Tuesday the following week, and so on.

The four rotating employees also will end up with a four-day weekend every five weeks.

“You usually don’t get that at all unless you take your vacation time,” Fielder said.

The management employees of the Probate Court, including Fielder, executive secretary Becky Brasher, Administrator Annita Hamilton and accountant/bookkeeper Gary Harshman, will have a set day off each week. For example, Fielder said her day off will be Wednesday.

“So on any given day, you’re not going to have more than two people scheduled out,” she said. “We’ve been shorter than that many times.”

The court will try out the new schedule during August, though Thomas said “all the employees are for it.”

“It’s not something that we’re going to do permanently,” Thomas said. “We’re just sort of seeing how it works now, and we’ll just play it by ear.”

The longer hours will make the office open an hour and a half more each day, making the courts more accessible to both the public and to attorneys.

“I sent an e-mail to all the attorneys – we have about 400 on our database that I keep up with – and they are very excited,” Thomas said. “They were talking about how they mostly work until 5 p.m. or longer, so that gives them more time to call down here and send their runners.”

Fielder called it a “win-win” situation. Members of the public can go to Probate Court to file something before they go to work. Attorneys who may have to go to other courts especially will reap the benefits of the longer Probate hours.

“(Attorneys) can swing by and file whatever they need to with us, and then go to the other courts,” Fielder said. “I don’t see any downfalls yet at all.”

Other courts to follow?

Circuit Court Administrator Van Sturdivant said that though he had heard about Probate’s switch to a rotating workweek, the court is not in a place to make the change at this time.

“We couldn’t consider it because of the number of courts we’re covering,” Sturdivant said. “It would just be a very difficult scheduling issue for us.”

Chancery Court Clerk and Master Dewun Settle said he thought it was a great idea, although their offices are going to wait and see how the rotating schedule works for Probate Court before they try it themselves.

“We looked at it, and it’s something that could possibly be feasible for Chancery Court. Especially in this economy, I think it’s a great idea,” Settle said. “We don’t know if we’re going to implement it yet, though. Quite frankly, Chris (Thomas) was a pioneer, and that means you’ve got to ply a lot of ground for other people.

“We’re going to see how it works out in Probate, and if it works out in Probate, there’s a possibility we may try it in Chancery.”

Many offices simply can’t make the switch to a rotating schedule, despite the benefits such a schedule may have for employees.

But Probate Court employees will see numerous benefits, especially since, according to Fielder, the county may cut employees’ vacation and sick time.

“That’s just something they’re talking about; it’s nothing definite yet,” Fielder said. “But if that does happen, then (with the rotating schedule) you’ve got that day off to get it done, and not have to use your time. You can save it for something you really have to have it for.”

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