McGrath: County Commissioners Can Offer Employees Pay in Lieu of Benefits
HELENA – In a formal opinion issued Monday, Attorney General Mike McGrath held that a board of county commissioners can legally offer county employees pay in lieu of benefits.
Ravalli County Attorney George Corn had requested the opinion. County employees in Ravalli County have for some time been given the choice of opting out of the county’s group health insurance plan and instead receiving a payment. Corn asked whether this was legal and under what circumstances the payments could be discontinued.
The opinion noted that Montana law specifically prohibits payments to employees who elect not to be covered by a state-sponsored group benefit plan, but that there is no such prohibition for other public employees.
If the payment in lieu of benefits is part of a collective bargaining agreement, the opinion held that a board of county commissioners cannot alter that portion of the agreement without the written consent of the collective bargaining unit. For non-union employees, the county’s ability to discontinue the benefit depends on the terms of the particular employment agreement.
Attorney general’s opinions carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the laws involved.