Several Akron first responders who were required to self-quarantine before April 1 are discovering they don’t qualify for additional emergency sick leave being offered by the city during the coronavirus pandemic.
The city of Akron is providing employees up to two weeks emergency paid sick leave after the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The act mandates cities provide that time, but does not provide any funding, said Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary for Mayor Dan Horrigan.
Congress exempted first responders from the mandate, but the mayor extended that sick time to members of safety forces, Nischt said.
“So we were not required to give them any (COVID-19 related) leave,” she said. “He wanted to take care of the first responders to the extent that we were able.”
The policy, however, is only effective after April 1.
Akron Fraternal Order of Police President Clay Cozart said 10 police officers were quarantined before April 1, most of them due to air travel. He said if an officer got off a plane in March, they won’t get emergency sick time; if they did so in April, they will.
Cozart said the difference is arbitrary and unfair, especially because there were no rules on quarantine or Centers for Disease Control warnings against travel when those officers traveled in March. By the time they flew back home, the policy had changed.
“They were already on vacation” and couldn’t cancel, Cozart said, adding that many union members have since canceled their vacations after the new quarantine policy was put into place.
Some of those officers have less than two weeks of time off, so when they got back, Cozart said they likely didn’t have enough time to cover the required two-week self quarantine.
None of those 10 officers have any symptoms or have tested positive, and all are back on duty, Cozart said. He said the police union’s stance is that any officers ordered to quarantine should be on paid administrative leave, and not have to use their own sick time.
Akron Fire Union President Steve Barker said two firefighters were also quarantined for air travel before April 1, and won’t be covered. He said the union is still working with the city so that those firefighters do not have to use their own sick time for quarantine.
He added that in the pandemic, many of these policies are new and have to be worked out.
“It’s a work in progress,” Barker said. “This is something we’ve never faced before.”
Barker said firefighters who tested positive for the virus, which the city announced before April 1, would be covered under injury leave, separate from this policy.
Nischt said the mandate from the federal government isn’t tied to any federal funding, and the city has yet to receive any federal funding related to coronavirus relief. She said the city is confident Congress will pass a relief package for smaller cities, but hasn’t yet.
“No one is giving us money,” Nischt said. “They’re mandating that we cover this leave out of our own revenues.”
She said the city doesn’t have a record of how many city employees were on quarantine but won’t be covered. The city is aware of the union complaint, Nischt said.
Nischt said other city employees are covered under a different but similar policy, which also went into effect on April 1, so city employees also covered are based on when the quarantine takes place. She said that date is set by the federal act.