Working Corrections COVID-19As a key segment of essential workers, correctional employees and Supervisors have seen the risks and demands of their essential jobs impacted immensely. Correctional Supervisors are tasked with maintaining the safety, security, and well-being of our state’s prisoners, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only introduced a new set of risks in an already dangerous profession, risks (and resulting potential reliefs and benefits), that you should be aware of if you or one you love is a correctional employee.

This is especially true because those risks are becoming reality. According to the CDCR COVID-19 population tracker, the total confirmed cases are 4,924[1] with 407 current active cases amongst CDCR employees as of June 29, 2020. On May 30th, 2020, Danny Mendoza, a Correctional Officer in Riverside County at California Rehabilitation Center died after testing positive for Coronavirus. His death was the first reported by CDCR among employees who have tested positive[2].

Now, well enough are known the risks of COVID-19, but correctional employees should also understand the coverages and limitations of the legislative measures passed to provide relief.  The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (“FFCRA”) became public law on March 18, 2020, and was designed to provide protections for those affected by, or caring for someone affected by COVID-19 and consequentially missing work.

Sound great right? And it is for some folks, however, you should know that the FFCRA states that “emergency responders” may be excluded from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer.

The FFCRA defines “emergency responders” as an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, healthcare, comfort and nutrition of such patients, or others needed for the response to COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, child welfare workers and service providers, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency, as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility.[3]  This squarely applies to all correctional officers with rare exception.

That said, if you should contact COVID-19, workers compensation benefits may be available to you.  Gavin Newsom passed executive order N-62-20[4] making COVID-19 a presumptive condition which means that should you contract the disease while employed there will be create a rebuttable presumption that CDCR and the state will be responsible for resulting injuries.  Remember however that it is a “rebuttable” presumption meaning it can be contested and workers compensation benefits and related treatment are subject to the following:

“Any COVID-19-related illness of an employee shall be presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment for purposes of awarding workers’ compensation benefits if all of the following requirements are satisfied:

  1. The employee tested positive for or was diagnosed with COVID19 within 14 days after a day that the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction;
  2. The day referenced in subparagraph (a) on which the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction was on or after March 19, 2020;
  3. The employee’s place of employment referenced in subparagraphs (a) and (b) was not the employee’s home or residence; and
  4. Where subparagraph (a) is satisfied through a diagnosis of COVID-19, the diagnosis was done by a physician who holds a physician and surgeon license issued by the California Medical Board and that diagnosis is confirmed by further testing within 30 days of the date of the diagnosis. 2)

The presumption set forth in Paragraph 1 is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence, but unless so controverted, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board is bound to find in accordance with it. This presumption shall only apply to dates of injury occurring through 60 days following the date of this Order.”

If you have further questions pertaining to workers compensation benefits and this executive order, please refer to the FAQ section here

Should the worst occur and COVID-19 result in death, The Public Safety Officer Benefits  Act may provide benefits to the deceased employees family.  The Act holds that any conditions caused by infectious diseases, viruses, and bacteria can be found to be an injury sustained in the line of duty. In order to be eligible for a public safety officer’s death or disability due to COVID-19, the PSOB Act and regulations require that the evidence show that it is more likely than not that the virus resulted from the public safety officer’s exposure while performing a line of duty activity or action, subject to the following conditions[5]:

(1) the officer had engaged in line of duty action or activity under circumstances that indicate that it was medically possible that the officer was exposed to the virus, SARS-CoV-2, while so engaged; and

(2) the officer did contract the disease, COVID-19, within a time-frame where it was medically possible to contract the disease from that exposure.

In addition, in the absence of evidence showing a different cause of death, Bureau of Justice Assistance generally will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer who died while suffering from COVID-19 died as the direct and proximate result of COVID-19.

While some states have laws that presume a public safety officer’s infectious disease resulted from their employment, eliminating the need for evidence of when the transmission of a disease or infection occurred, the PSOB Program has no such presumption.

At the end of the day, the most important factor in protecting yourself and any benefits you may be entitled to is detailed documentation.  Don’t assume that your employer is on your side or that the “system” will take care of you.  If you believe you have been exposed, document the exposure carefully.  Promptly seek any and all medical treatment and testing and make a clear record of your work schedule, your exposure to others, your travel etc., so that benefits you are entitled to cannot be challenged.  And perhaps most importantly, seek appropriate legal advice and representation where appropriate.

[1] CDCR Patients: Confirmed Covid-19 as of 7/7/2020

[2] California correctional officer dies after testing positive for coronavirus