A report by the New York State Inspector General alleges “egregious” abuse of a workers’ compensation loss wage benefit provision by state corrections and institution safety officers.
The report blames a 2016 labor agreement with the state’s correction agency’s Security Services Unit (SSU) for creating incentives for employees to stay out of work and collect wages, which in turn has contributed to staffing shortages, overtime work for other employees. and morale problems.
Inspector General Lucy Lang said the report was previously given to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (OER) as it details “egregious workers’ compensation abuse” by corrections facilities’ security staff that was “arguably incentivized by existing contract terms.”
Lang urged the OER to use the workers’ compensation report as it negotiates the terms of a new labor agreement covering correction officers. The SSU is represented by the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. SSU is part of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
Lang said her office has received hundreds of complaints alleging that correction officers are abusing their lost wage benefits. The report says these complaints have been echoed by staff at many of the 44 correctional facilities visited by her office over the past year, and have resulted in a “daily struggle to simultaneously ensure safety while maintaining the delivery of critical services in the face of significant workers’ compensation-driven staffing shortages.”
Unlike the most employees covered by the workers’ compensation law, SSU employees are entitled to up to six months of full pay from their employer after an occupational injury or disease, without having to choose between using their accrued leave time or receiving less than their full pay through the New York State Insurance Fund (SIF), the state’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
According to the report, during fiscal year 2020-2021, DOCCS had to cover nearly 1.8 million hours of staff time as a result of workers’ compensation absences, a nine percent increase from the year prior, and a 61 percent increase over the prior decade.
At the same time, the report continues, about two out of three workers’ compensation claims filed by correction officers were for injuries unrelated to physical contact with incarcerated individuals.
From 2015 to 2021, the Inspector General’s team said they observed that at approximately 10% of correctional facilities, on average, one in three correction officers filed a workers’ compensation claim. One a single day December 26, 2022, eight facilities had 10% or greater of their entire security staff out on workers’ compensation leave, with three facilities topping 17%.
The report also cites an absence of restrictions on employees’ activities during time spent on leave, which the report says appears to have created a “strong motivation for fraud as well as a perverse incentive for correction officers to not return to work before those six months have been exhausted, regardless of their ability to do so.”
It alleges instances of employees receiving compensation benefits while simultaneously working second jobs and submissions of falsified medical reports. It also cites one case of a married couple, working as correction officers in the same facility, who were allegedly out on workers’ compensation leave at the same time for 241 days.
A spokesman for the union that represents the state’s corrections officers — New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association— said the union was still reviewing the report and had no comment at this time.
The union has complained about a spike in attacks on officers since the implementation in April of a law that limits their ability to place inmates deemed violent in special confinement areas separated from the general population.
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