COBA: DOC's Sick-Day Protocols 'Disgraceful'

By: 
RICHARD KHAVKINE | The Chief Leader

In an effort to reduce what Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi has said is a high number of unverified sickouts, the Department of Correction will require correction officers to be evaluated by hospital staff within 24 hours of calling out or be subject to disciplinary proceedings. 

The president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Benny Boscio, denounced the new policy, a significant tweak of existing protocols, calling it “disgraceful.”

'Verification Form'

Officers were previously required to submit “medical documentation” to the DOC’s Health Management Division if they were out more than two days. 

“All members calling out sick, regardless of leave duration, must make an appointment with the department’s designated provider (Mt. Sinai) for the same day and no later than within 24 hours after calling out sick,” according to Mr. Schiraldi’s Aug. 1 directive, addressed to the department’s commanding officers. 

Mt. Sinai medical staff will examine the officer and fill out an “illness verification form,” submitted to the HMD, indicating whether he or she “is fit for full duty, is fit for duty with limitation, or is not fit for duty and is scheduled to be re-evaluated,” according to the directive. 

HMD officials will then make final determinations on an officer’s ability to return to the job, including a timeline and assignment adjustments. Follow-ups will be scheduled as needed.  

Union: 'Continued Abuse'

Officers will not be charged and they will not be required to give their insurance information. 

That did not placate Mr. Boscio. 

“The DOC’s latest punitive sick-leave policy that forces our members, who are recovering from brutal inmate assaults, the physical exhaustion of working 25 hours or more daily without meals, and the long-term effects of COVID-19, to make a doctor’s appointment within 24 hours of calling out sick is consistent with the continued abuse we’ve come to expect from our Commissioners,” the union leader said in a statement. 

He said that staff who had tested positive were “harassed” and “threatened,” including with termination, if they stayed home to convalesce. “When officers took sick leave for COVID-19 absences, they were hit with chronic absenteeism,” Mr. Boscio said. 

He then suggested that “before he plays with the health and safety of our members’ lives,” Mr. Schiraldi do as Correction Officers have of late and complete a triple tour without taking a meal break while breaking up jailhouse fights.

 

'Fight It Vigorously'

“This is disgraceful and we will fight this policy vigorously,” Mr. Boscio said. 

But a DOC spokesman, Jason Kersten, said the protocols were “similar” to those in effect at the Police and Fire departments and are in large part designed to lessen the need to assign triple shifts. 

“Both of those agencies have much-lower sick rates than DOC, and part of that is because this system allows for greater accountability and fairness,” he said in a statement. “Many of our officers are working triples to make up for people who are not reporting to work. This is one more step to amend that and to ensure that our facilities are safe.”

State legislation enacted in early July ensured that New York public employees flagged as chronic absentees because they were laid up by the coronavirus would no longer be subject to retaliatory personnel actions. 

State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr. drew up the bill, signed by Governor Cuomo following passage of both legislative houses, following reports that hundreds of correction officers had been designated chronic absentees by the DOC after taking time off to recover from the virus and were denied appeals of the designation. Being tagged a chronic absentee puts officers at risk of losing out on promotions, preferred assignments—including steady tours and voluntary overtime—and other benefits. 

Suspects Malingering

But Commissioner Schiraldi has several times since his June appointment said that officers have falsely claimed to have been sickened by the virus, and thereby cut into available staff. He and Mr. Boscio have quarreled over those assertions.

The new directive says HMD staff will keep track of paperwork related to absences “and will work with each facility and administration to identify those members who are fit for duty but fail to return to work.” 

Commissioner Schiraldi last month unveiled a multi-pronged effort to make over multiple aspects of jail life for both inmates and staff. The plan, which he is calling #NewDayDOC, includes a pledge to revamp the department’s discipline process “to be fair and proportional.” It also includes a commitment for “fair and swift accountability” for officers who are absent without official sanction and for “unverified sick calls.”