Cook County jail worker abused family leave, called off work 60 times

Cook County jail worker abused family leave, called off work 60 times

A suspended Cook County Jail corrections officer faces termination following serial abuses of a federal family leave rule.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has moved to fire an officer at Cook County Jail who repeatedly used family leave to supplement personal vacation time.

With the assistance of a doctor’s note citing an “intermittent medical condition,” corrections officer Alexander Perteete qualified for family leave benefits in 2015 under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

An internal investigation conducted by the sheriff’s Office of Professional Review, or OPR, determined that Perteete had collected a full 61 extra days off work between January 2016 and July 2017 by invoking the FMLA.

For 18 months, the county worker demonstrated a suspect pattern of convenient family leave claims, frequently missing holiday shifts and extending weekends and vacations.

Not that investigators were forced to rely solely on pattern examinations to identify Perteete’s FMLA abuses. Perteete often volunteered it himself on social media.

Shortly after calling off work on Mother’s Day in 2016, he posted a video of himself at East Chicago’s Ameristar Casino. If the possibility could have been raised that the video was shared belatedly and had been filmed on an earlier date, it was put to rest when he followed up with a post about his mother “hitting it big,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Additional FMLA days off were devoted to vacations to Miami and Cancun, according to the investigation.

The veteran jail guard, who has been employed by the Cook County Department of Corrections since 2004, has since been suspended without pay. It’s a suspension that Dart is hoping will graduate to a termination when the Cook County Merit Board – the entity responsible for adjudicating county disciplinary cases – reviews the OPR complaint.

Dart’s office has indicated that this disciplinary undertaking is just one step in a broader attempt at reform, which should come as a relief to Cook County taxpayers who pay the salaries of county correctional officers. Teamsters Local 700, the union that represents approximately 3,400 county jail workers, has expressed disinterest in the issue of worker attendance despite the jail’s history of mass call-offs.

Indeed, while Perteete’s abuses are excessive, they’re hardly original. The suspended guard’s Mother’s Day jaunt was in keeping with 460 other corrections officers who called off that same day in 2016. Major local sporting events have also been known to result in the absence of hundreds of public employees. Mass call-offs in the event of a holiday or playoff game has become so common that they’ve earned a name: “sickouts.”

But “sickouts” at the Cook County Jail are by no means restricted to significant events. The Tribune reported that 114 employees scheduled to work the 11 a.m. shift Saturday, Nov. 4, called in sick, amounting to 39 percent of the staff scheduled to work that shift.

It’d be tempting to find humor in such brazen dereliction if it weren’t for the strain it imposes on crucial public services. Increased overtime for an unnecessarily understaffed county jail is an abuse of taxpayer funds. Worse, it inhibits the institution’s capacity to deliver on services guaranteed to inmates and heightens the safety risk of the employees who show up to work.

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