ALBANY — The union representing New York’s corrections officers has filed suit in state Supreme Court against two state departments alleging mandatory paid sick leave was denied during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
Filed Friday in Albany County, the suit names the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Department of Civil Service on the basis of three violations — to Paid Sick Leave Law, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations Quarantine Leave Policy and DCS’ Leave of Quarantine policy.
The New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association and six corrections officers are requesting for a judgement through an Article 78 proceeding, which asks the court to review actions by a state body.
“Our members cannot work from home like so many others, and our members are often directed to work mandatory overtime,” NYSCOBPA President Michael B. Powers said in a statement. “Our prisons are at constant risk for COVID-19 outbreaks, so our members face constant risk of becoming infected every time they walk into their facilities. Then, when many of them inevitably become exposed to or contract COVID-19, they are placed out of work, through no fault of their own. They have no control over this.”
The state issued the GOER Quarantine Leave Policy on March 11, for those directed to quarantine because of the novel coronavirus, “whether healthy or displaying symptoms.”
A week later, Chapter 25 of the Laws of 2020, Paid Sick Leave Law, was enacted and applied to both public and private employers. The law requires at least 14 days of paid sick leave for symptomatic employees on either mandatory or precautionary orders of quarantine due to COVID-19.
“The Paid Sick Leave Law reflects the Legislature’s judgment that people who are sick or exposed to an infectious disease should stay home instead of going to work,” the petition reads. “The Paid Sick Leave Law provisions assist in accomplishing this essential health directive by assuring that employees will not suffer economic hardship as a result of taking the necessary steps to protect themselves, their families and their communities from devastating harm.”
DCS’ Leave of Quarantine policy, according to the union, is “longstanding” and requires paid sick leave be granted “for the period of required absence, without charge against accumulated sick leave, vacation or overtime credits.”
DOCCS has only permitted one 14-day block of paid leave, the union adds.
“Requiring employees to charge earned leave accruals for any state-directed absence beyond 14 calendar days, is contrary to law,” the petition reads.
One of the six corrections officers petitioning, Cady Eastwood, claims she was directed by the Oswego County Health Department to quarantine from Dec. 24 until Jan. 3, after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. While employed at Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome, Ms. Eastwood was not afforded paid sick leave for that quarantine period and will need to use more than 68 hours of earned sick leave, according to the petition.
Similar paid leave denials for officers in Oneida, Erie and Genesse counties are noted to have happened in April, May, November and December.
A total of 3,793 DOCCS staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Friday. The department has maintained it will not release staff COVID-19 data by facility for privacy reasons. Seven staff members across the state’s correctional facilities have died of COVID-19 complications. Five parolees and 29 inmates have died, too, with a total 4,264 parolee and inmate cases confirmed this week.
“Since the pandemic has raged onward since March, our members are now being placed on second or even third mandatory quarantines, having been exposed to COVID-19 again and again while on duty,” Mr. Powers said. “Many of our members have contracted COVID-19 at work, have been unable to return to work in 14 days, and have been out on their own pay after that. They should not be punished by being forced to use personal leave or to go without pay when state law provides paid leave for them without charge to their accruals.”