New bill would prevent NY government workers from being punished for coronavirus-related absences following Daily News report

By: 
CHELSIA ROSE MARCIUS

A new state bill would prevent local government workers from being punished for coronavirus-related absences following a Daily News report on how hundreds of New York City correction officers with COVID-19 now have tarnished records for calling out sick.

The bill, introduced by N.Y. Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr. (D-Bensonhurst), says government employers cannot dismiss or take “other adverse disciplinary (or) personnel actions against a public employee related to (COVID-19) absences.”

The proposed legislation introduced last week comes after The News reported last month that nearly 900 city correction officers who tested positive for the virus had to appeal the Department of Correction’s “chronic absence” designation for days missed due to the disease.

Of those appeals, 546 were approved by the agency, while 327 were denied and 20 are still pending, officials said last month. Yet the number of denied appeals appeared to be as high as 400, according to sources who reviewed an internal report about chronic absences.

“It’s the height of stupidity," Savino told the News on Monday. "If (the Daily News) hadn’t written about it, we wouldn’t have known about it.”

“You have correction officers who had the coronavirus, notified their employer, do the right thing and stay home because they don’t want to spread it...and now you’re going to use those [absent] days against them in a punitive way?” she said. “You’re going to incentivize them to go to work sick, and potentially become super spreaders in a facility where [the virus] could be dangerous and deadly.”

Gov. Cuomo signed emergency legislation March 18 that guaranteed job protection and pay for New Yorkers who had to quarantine due to COVID-19.

But the new bill seeks to go even farther by prohibiting employers from imposing other administrative penalties.

“You’re sick with Covid and you’re ‘chronically absent?’ It makes no sense to me,” said Abbate, who’s also chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Governmental Employees.

“People put their lives on the line, we call them heroes — and then behind the scenes they do this. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “No matter what’s in (their) contracts, or whatever policies (the Correction Department has) in place, this is unacceptable.”

Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio, who has pushed for repealing the chronic absence designation, praised state politicians for putting forth the bill.

“New York City correction officers risked their lives to keep our city safe during the COVID-19 pandemic," Boscio said. “This should never have happened, particularly to an essential workforce comprised of first responders.”

City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer said the city would review the bill, adding “our employees health and safety is our top priority."

For Correction Officer Antonio Saltalamacchia — who was deemed chronically absent by the department for missing 98 days of work after testing positive for the virus three times between March and June — the proposed legislation would be a welcome relief.

“I’m relieved that a spotlight has been put on this very serious issue,” he said. “It’s a major first step and I hope that this bill gets passed...We desperately need some sort of protection."