First responders forced to take leave for COVID exposure file grievance

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — First responders forced to quarantine after COVID exposure at work have to use vacation or sick leave — but that depends on which county. Unions said first responders should not be forced to use their own time when the exposure happens while on duty.

The union for firefighters has filed a grievance against Maui and Kauai counties because workers forced to quarantine after exposure to COVID while on duty have to use their sick leave or vacation time.

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“The basic problem is it’s a workplace exposure and, like any other workplace exposure, the employer is responsible and should be compensating our members,” said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

That is the case for Honolulu and the Big Island where first responders are able to get up to 10 days of administrative leave.

“We want to make sure that people don’t come to work if they shouldn’t be coming to work. And a lot of times, if it wasn’t for admin leave then maybe it’s too hard for people to stay home. So we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to comply with quarantine rules,” said Dr. Jill Omori, Honolulu Infectious Disease officer.

Those rules apply to all city workers. For all counties, workers who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus do not have to go on leave if they are exposed to someone with COVID — unless they test positive. Officials said that it is another good reason to get vaccinated.

“Especially for our first responders, sometimes there is a workforce issue and so it really makes it difficult for everyone else if a lot of people go on quarantine,” Dr. Omori explained.

Lee pointed out that for Maui and Kauai this is not a good way to persuade workers to get vaccinated.

“We still strongly encourage all of our members to get vaccinated, but this seems like kind of an unfair way to force people to get vaccinated. It just doesn’t seem right,” said Lee.

A spokeswoman for Kauai County sent a statement that said, “While we’ve not been made aware of any concerns by our employees/unions, we are always open to reviewing our policies.”

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KHON2 reached out to Maui County but is still waiting for a response.

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