After a second Miami Beach police officer contracted the Zika virus and the city denied workers’ compensation, the police union is calling for state legislation that covers first responders in such situations.
The city’s response to the cops: Prove the infection happened while on duty and produce the virus-carrying mosquito that bit you.
Sgt. Michelle Sayegh was the first officer to publicly announce she had been infected with the virus in early October. She told WPLG Local 10 that the city informed her she would not be getting workers’ comp and she would have to take sick time after she was told to stay at home. Sayegh works in the heart of South Beach’s entertainment district — an area where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are actively spreading Zika.
A second Beach officer who contracted the Zika virus was confirmed last week. The officer has not come forward.
These are the first two cases of locally transmitted Zika among first responders in the country. The city has denied the officers workers’ comp benefits for the infections but said it would provide free Zika testing for city employees.
On Tuesday, the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police announced it would make a state legislative push to get first responders workers’ compensation coverage in cases of Zika infection.
“The city of Miami Beach offering free Zika testing does not mitigate the need for their coverage of the employees that they place at risk,” said Bobby Jenkins, president of the statewide police union and the Miami Beach chapter. “There are inherent dangers associated with the job of first responder and though we knowingly take that risk, we do have an expectation that if we fall ill from an infectious disease as part of that job, that we will be covered and supported by those that put us in harm’s way.”
Jenkins sent a letter on Friday to the top officials in the city, including Mayor Philip Levine and commissioners, asking them to address the issue by Monday.
“While we understand that these circumstances are unprecedented, we have been working with the faith that the administration would show benevolence in dealing with this issue and the impact that it is having on its first responders,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the city has yet to show any benevolence or even willingness to establish a protocol that is acceptable for determining eligibility of workers compensation benefits as it relates to Zika.”
On Wednesday, City Manager Jimmy Morales responded in a letter that points out the city’s Zika prevention training efforts while saying that in order for an employee to get workers’ compensation, he or she must prove that the virus was contracted while on duty and even do something that is practically impossible — identify the infected mosquito.
“The employee must also provide medical evidence of injury (‘disablement’ or ‘death’), including providing a written release of medical records,” Morales wrote. “To date, very limited/insufficient medical records have been received by the city’s third party administrator for workers compensation for the cases which have been recently denied.”
The manager added that neither officer has submitted a written release of records, and one officer has not submitted any test results.
Morales also said the Beach can’t rewrite state law that defines an “occupational disease.” The union hopes the state lawmakers will do just that in 2017.
“If the state Legislature amends the workers compensation statute to address Zika, we will certainly comply with any such provisions.”