LORAIN — In a letter to Lorain Safety Service Director Robert Fowler, the president of the Lorain police union blasted a new policy in which the city sends someone to the homes of city workers who call off sick and warned him that those coming to check up on officers could face criminal trespassing charges.
“I have informed my membership that they are not required to answer the door for the city’s benefits officer or any nurse from the Health Department,” Officer Kyle Gelenius wrote in the letter. “I have also instructed my membership to immediately contact their respective police department if anyone knowingly enters or remains on their premises without having the privilege to do so, or negligently fail or refuse to leave upon being notified to do so by the owner or occupant.”
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said while he took that comment as a threat, he understands where it came from.
“I think it’s a very strong reaction, but, as I look at it, sometimes when people get angry they say things that are strong,” he said.
Fowler said he first sent a city employee or a nurse from the Lorain City Health Department to employees’ homes in February as part of an effort to curb sick time abuse. He said the city ramped up the policy at the end of May and is now dispatching someone every time a worker calls off sick.
So far two city workers, Firefighter Richard Valentik and Engineering Department employee Robert Cobert, have been scheduled for predisciplinary hearings for alleged sick time abuse, although Fowler has not said publicly what the allegations against them are. City workers can be fired for their first violation of sick leave rules.
Ritenauer said he supports the policy and believes it’s reduced abuse of sick leave by city workers.
“It’s a benefit that shouldn’t be abused, and it’s our job to make sure it isn’t,” he said.
Gelenius, who did not return calls seeking additional comment, wrote he’s been told that the nurse being sent to sick employees’ homes has been instructed to take the blood pressure and temperature of those employees. Provisions for such testing aren’t in the city’s collective bargaining agreement, it is a violation of privacy and it may violate federal laws dictating how medical information can be used, he wrote.
“This unannounced and arbitrary practice creates several issues in addition to being a clear violation of the collective bargaining agreement,” Gelenius wrote.
Fowler said so far only one police officer has been visited at home.
“Typically we’re just confirming that the person is home,” he said.
Gelenius also wrote that he’s told the city’s police officers to follow the collective bargaining agreement and the Police Department’s sick leave policy.
While on sick leave, police officers are prohibited from leaving their residences except to get medical treatment, pick up medication, attend religious services, vote, obtain basic life necessities or convalesce at another approved residence, according to the policy. If they do leave their homes while out sick, the officers must travel to and from their destination by the most direct route.
Ritenauer said that city officials plan to sit down with Gelenius and other police union leaders to discuss the dispute in the coming weeks.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.