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Quarantined Florida Prison Staffers Must Use Personal Leave To Get Paid, If They Can't Telework

AP Photo/John Raoux

In Florida’s prison system, if employees test positive for COVID-19, or are suspected of having been in contact with someone who has, they’ll have to use the personal leave time they've accrued when sent home for quarantine.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed an employee at Marion Correctional Institution Work Camp tested positive for coronavirus.

“The employee has been out of work for eight days and will not return to work until a full recovery is documented by a medical professional,” the Department wrote in a statement.

It wasn’t just the employee who tested positive who was sent home to be quarantined. Three other employees at the work camp facility, who were “identified as having close contact” with the individual were sent home to quarantine as well.

Those three employees will now be “self-isolating and placed on leave until they are symptom free for a period of 14 days following their last contact with the positive individual,” according to DOC.

Each of those employees were placed on leave. Asked if those employees and any statewide who are quarantined are put on paid leave, DOC said this in a statement:

“FDC employees may use accrued personal leave (sick, annual, personal, comp) if they are unable to telework during self-isolation or quarantine following close contact with an individual who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19,” the statement, sent in an email, says. “Procedures have been established by Governor DeSantis and the Department of Management Services to enable employees to donate leave if a state employee does not have any accrued leave.”

Some roles within DOC, like correctional officers, generally are unable to telework because of the nature of their duties, the agency says. But the situation is ever-evolving, according to the Department, and on a case-by-case basis such roles are able to do some work remotely.

James Baiardi is president of the corrections chapter of Florida’s Police Benevolent Association – the union that represent prison workers. He says quarantined employees, like those from Marion County's facility, should be placed on administrative leave.  

“If you have some officer come to work, and for whatever reason – he tells his supervisor … ‘I have a little cough today,’ or the supervisor hears them cough, and the Department tells them ‘Hey, you can’t come to work for 14 days, you should self-quarantine … and the officer goes ahead and goes home, it’s our position that the officer should be paid administrative leave, and not have to use their own leave,” Baiardi told WFSU Thursday.

Baiardi adds administrative leave is commonly used by law enforcement agencies in a number of situations, like internal investigations. He doesn’t understand why DOC is treating suspected, or confirmed, coronavirus cases differently.

“And in other cases – this is not extraordinary – sometimes when (officers) are involved in investigations or … police officers on the street, when they’re involved in shootings and are told they can’t come to work for a few days – they pay them,” he said.

Meanwhile, DOC has cancelled visitation for inmates statewide amid fears of COVID-19 spread inside state prisons.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.