Forced retirement shines light on EMT employee benefits

For many New York City workers, the main reason they take certain jobs is because of the benefits they get for doing them. This goes beyond financial compensation and includes vacation time, sick pay and health care benefits. When these workers become injured or ill, they have a right to expect the employer to uphold their part of the bargain. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as ancillary issues -- often financial -- can spark attempts on the part of the employer to circumnavigate paying these employee benefits. This is made worse when it is the city itself that is trying to avoid compensating employees and the injuries or illnesses that came about during tragic events.

An emergency medical technician who worked for the city and became ill after 9/11 retired after her sick leave concluded. She joins many other employees who work for the city who are faced with the same choice. They assert that they have received an ultimatum with support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who seeks to prevent a law that will extend the sick time for these workers. The EMT worker at the center of this case says she was on the job for 25 years with the intention to remain for 30 years. She believes she was nudged to retire just so she could retain her health care. She has ovarian cancer linked to the debris stemming from the 9/11 attacks.

In early June, she was informed that her sick pay was expiring and that she needed to retire. EMTs are different from sanitation employees, firefighters and police in that there is not unlimited sick time after being injured or made ill while on duty. There is a bill that would add EMS and others to this status. Although an estimated 15,000 city workers were sent to the site of the terrorist attacks, not all receive unlimited sick leave. Officials say the union should have addressed this issue in its contract negotiations.

This situation centers around how the EMT workers' contract addresses the ill or injured in the line of duty. It remains to be seen what the outcome of this case will be. However, what is important to take away is that employees should be treated fairly with regards to employee benefits. If an employee believes they are wrongfully being denied benefits, they will want to research their legal options to determine what steps to take to address the issue.

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