N.Y Senate approves bill barring public employers from retaliating over COVID-related absences


ALBANY — Lawmakers in the State Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that could prevent public workers from being punished for COVID-related absences.

The common-sense legislation came to be after the Daily News highlighted how hundreds of New York City correction officers who fell ill last year were left with tarnished records for calling out sick amid the worst of the pandemic.

Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) introduced the measure after The News reported that nearly 900 correction officers who tested positive for the virus had to appeal the Department of Correction’s “chronic absence” designation for missed days after contracting COVID or having to quarantine.

“When it came to our attention that the City Department of Correction was taking an adverse disciplinary action against their own employees for utilizing their sick time because they were quarantining or were out sick because they had COVID and were enforcing a chronic absentee policy, it was outrageous,” Savino said.

“Quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for the Daily News bringing it to our attention we wouldn’t have known about it.”

The legislation, if approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor, would mean government employers cannot dismiss or take “other adverse disciplinary (or) personnel actions against a public employee related to (COVID-19) absences.”

Gov. Cuomo instituted an executive order barring private employers from retaliating against workers who missed days due to COVID last March, early on in the pandemic. But those same protections were not extended to public employees.

Union leaders applauded the Senate for moving the bill and called on the Assembly to follow suit.

“The unanimous passage of today’s bill that prohibits public employers from retaliating against employees with disciplinary action for COVID-19 related absences is a landmark victory for all public sector employees in the State of New York, particularly for over 800 New York City Correction Officers, who were punished by the DOC for taking sick leave related to COVID-19,” said Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio.