This, from today’s Chicago Tribune: “Emergency dispatchers using federal leave to get time off,” and the headline is far more bland than the reality:
Nearly half of Chicago’s 911 dispatchers are off work on federal medical leave at any given time, the city’s Emergency Management commissioner said Wednesday, driving up overtime costs for an agency that must ensure that enough people are working to handle calls for emergency assistance. . . .
“In intermittent FMLA, we have approximately 44 people every single day that call off,” [Alecia] Tate-Nadeau said. “That’s about 49 percent of all of the 911 operators that we have, are on some time of intermittent FMLA. Clearly this number is much larger than it should be.”
“The challenge of intermittent FMLA is that they can call that very day and say we are not going to be here,” she told aldermen. “So whenever I hire folks back for overtime, I’m hiring them back at a minimum of time and a half to two times the salary.”
After her testimony was over, Tate-Nadeau ignored a reporter’s questions about whether dispatchers were using FMLA so much because OEMC officials were refusing to grant them regular days off because of staffing shortages.
This last comment suggests that it’s a chicken-and-egg issue: don’t get requested vacation time, take FMLA time instead, further strain the budget and staffing so that the next vacation time request is likewise refused, and so on — and a big win for workers’ pocketbooks, taking vacation unpaid but getting time-and-a-half overtime hours instead.Now, the FMLA law has provisions enabling employers to collect proof that an employee really is sick, or caring for someone who is sick; intermittent leave was really designed for those sorts of situations like an ongoing illness where you didn’t need to be absent continuously. For example, you might be able to work, but need to be absent for weekly or even more frequent medical treatments. How it could have morphed into a means of simply taking time off, to such a massive degree, is beyond me — did the city of Chicago, in union negotiations, agree to implement FMLA with a “no questions asked” policy? Did the entire 911 staff get fraudulent doctors’ notes claiming that they suffer from migraines or other chronic conditions that would qualify for FMLA leave? Are there further provisions in union contracts that guarantee the jobs of city employees no matter what sort of fraud they engage in? And at how many other city and county departments is this happening?
In any case: your government at work. Again.