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Kaiser Permanente workers want extra coronavirus sick time back

The supplemental coverage added for the pandemic expired in June. Kaiser says worker's compensation should cover the extra time off if needed.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in California, hospitals and medical workers are preparing for more patients. At Kaiser Permanente, some employees are asking the health care company to reinstate the supplemental 80-hours of supplemental sick that was granted when the pandemic started.

"The whole point of the 80-hour coverage is because we are at risk just by the nature of the population that we serve," said Georgette Bradford, who works as an ultrasound technologist at Kaiser Sacramento and is an executive committee member of the SEIU's United Healthcare Workers union.

The supplemental 80-hour coverage, which began in April and expired mid-June, allowed Kaiser employees who were exposed to COVID-19 or started showing symptoms to quarantine at home while recovering or awaiting the results of a test.

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Workers exposed or potentially exposed to the virus now have to pull from their personal sick leave bank. 

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said, “It’s important to know that Kaiser Permanente has one of the best sick leave policies in the country. In addition, as there arose questions and concerns about leave due to COVID-19 infection earlier on in the pandemic, we created a policy of presumptive worker’s compensation eligibility in affected areas, then expanded it across our entire organization. This means that regardless of whether an employee contract COVID-19 at home, in the community, or at work, we will cover it through worker’s compensation.”

Bradford said that worker's compensation claims do not offer enough protection for her and other frontline employees as they do not always give someone the full amount of pay.

"Those members should not be at a financial loss of income because of the very nature of them being an essential worker," Bradford said. "We are calling on Kaiser to reinstate that leave because now community spread is increasing, hospitalizations have been increasing recently."

Kaiser said in the statement that in addition to the extra sick leave, at the outset of the pandemic it added temporary benefits included childcare grants, an employee phone help line for childcare, wellness and mental health needs.

"During the nearly 10 weeks these temporary benefits were in place, more than 50,000 employees used at least one of these benefits, at a total cost of more than $112 million. The vast majority of that total was for childcare grants." Kaiser says in the statement.  "Our employee help line received over 9,800 calls for information on benefits and other support services. It continues to operate, available to all employees and physicians 7 days a week."

As of today, total cases for the state rose again to just over 200,461. In Sacramento, where Bradford works, the county was just put on a state watchlist for its sharp rise in cases. Kaiser Permanente hospitals have re-opened for elective procedures, increasing the flow of patients in and out of facilities.

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