Elkton corrections officers suing federal government for hazard pay during pandemic

Local News

The union's president said they've always gone to work every day knowing their lives were on the line -- but now their families' lives are at stake, too

ELKTON, Ohio (WKBN) – Correctional officers at Elkton Federal Prison are suing the federal government for hazard pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal court system has accepted the case filed by Elkton correctional officers. In the case, the officers argue they are entitled to hazard pay because of federal laws.

Case attorney Megan Mechak said federal laws show the Bureau of Prisons should be compensating the Elkton officers based on the pandemic. She said they’re entitled either to hazard pay or environmental pay based on their pay scale.

They’re also suing for overtime to be recalculated based off of that pay, and for backpay and interest since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The point of this is that these workers are coming to work in a very dangerous situation. The law provides that when you have to do that, you should be getting paid for it and they’re not,” Mechak said. “We can’t take away the dangerousness of the situation, but we wanted to make sure that they were getting the compensation that they were entitled to for that time period.”

Mechak said a lack of availability of personal protective equipment in the early period of the pandemic will play a role in the lawsuit.

Files from the Bureau of Prisons surrounding Elkton outbreaks and the number of staff who had COVID-19 will also be important.

Joseph Mayle, union president, said over 200 officers are joining this lawsuit. He said supervisors and additional officers have even joined the union, wanting to take part.

Mayle said he has seen his co-workers get severely sick this year, some with such serious complications that they haven’t been able to come back to work and are now drawing disability.

He said corrections officers are asked to come to work even if they have COVID-19, which he thinks perpetuates the problem.

Mayle said many of the officers have been most concerned about bringing the virus home to their families.

For these reasons, Mayle is among those seeking hazard pay, which he and his attorney say the officers are entitled to.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable, to think that an employee that is putting their lives on the line every day — and now more so, because now it’s affecting their families a lot more,” he said. “We went to work every single day, putting our lives on the line, knowing that something could happen to us but we knew that nothing was going to happen to our wife, or our son or our daughter. Our working conditions didn’t affect them in that way.”

Mayle said he’s heard from other officers about their spouses having to take time off work without sick pay after the family got COVID-19. He said the pandemic has been a stressful time for many of them.

He also expressed his frustration with the Bureau of Prisons for delaying the payment. He said the federal government would have to pay attorney fees and interest on the hazard pay if they win the lawsuit, which would cost more to taxpayers.

Mechak said the federal government has until early February to respond to the lawsuit. The Department of Justice, which runs the Bureau of Prisons, could try to get the lawsuit dismissed. Otherwise, it will move on to the discovery process.

We reached out to the Department of Justice multiple times for a comment on the lawsuit, but we have not heard back.

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