Sick Calls Prompt Lockdown at Jail

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A jail in Cook County, IL was placed on lockdown Sunday after hundreds of staff members called off for the second Mother’s Day in a row.

The jail has been placed on a lockdown with only essential movement, including medical and mental health, taking place, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

More than 200 correctional officers called in, authorities said, which was roughly 32 percent of the employees assigned to work the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

86 officers called in sick, while another 120 invoked the Family Medical Leave Act. Federal law requires employers to provide leave for certain medical reasons.

The extraordinary number of call offs puts additional pressure on the men and women of the Sheriff’s office who come to work as scheduled, the statement continued.

This is the second year in a row that the jail has been placed on lockdown on Mother’s Day. In 2016, authorities speculated that the holiday was the driving factor in the facility’s low staffing levels.

“We suspect it was Mother’s Day related, and, while we wish all our staff could have spent time with their moms and families, we have to run the jail, which is a 24/7 operation, and keep detainees and staff safe,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Sophia Ansari said in a statement last year.

The jail was also placed on lockdown six weeks later, after 317 employees alled off overtwo shifts on Father’s Day in June.

“I think it has everything to do with Father’s DAy and the NBA game 7 tonight,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Cara Smith said at the time, adding that the FMLA poses the biggest staffing challenge to the jail. 

“About one-third of our staff has FMLA coverage, which is concerning,” Smith said, adding that the FMLA can cover conditions like back spasms, migraines and more.

“The vast majority of them are allowed to use it intermittenly,” she continued. “Because of that, it puts the employer in an impossible position. As we’re preparing to start our shift at 7 a.m., we have people calling in up until 6:45 a.m. Our ability to be proactive, our hands are tied, primarily by the federal law.” 

The jail was also put on lockdown in January 2016, when 18 percent of the 793 employees scheduled to staff the morning shift called in sick.

The following month, an NBC investigation found that seven of the top 10 sick days at the Cook County Jail happened either the day of, or the day after, a major televised sporting evening.

Cook County Jail is one of the largest pre-detention facilities in the country, housing more than 9,000 inmates on a daily bases and admitting roughly 100,000 detainees annually, according to the Department of Corrections.