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Miami Beach city manager defends city's position regarding leave for officers with Zika

Officers told to prove they contracted virus on job to receive workers comp

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Miami Beach city manager Jimmy Morales defended the city's position this week to not immediately offer workers compensation to at least two police officers who have contracted the Zika virus, in a letter sent to the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police.

"The city has and is continuing to provide healthcare coverage to all first responders and all other employees as well," Morales wrote. "As you know, we provide subsidized health insurance to all our general employees. Your members have FOP Trust Health coverage, which is subsidized by the City from 76 percent to 80 percent and workers compensation is therefore not the primary payer. We assume that the FOP Trust is providing medical coverage to its members as intended, including those diagnosed with Zika."

Morales' letter was sent shortly after Miami Beach FOP president Bobby Jenkins sent a letter to the mayor and other city officials calling on a change to their policy.

"It sends the wrong message to the employee, sends the wrong message to everybody," Jenkins told Local 10 News. "If they're not going to take care of us, they're not going to take care of anybody else."

The FOP said that although the city provides healthcare coverage to its workers, officers still have to cover their copay on prescriptions and doctors visits.

In Morales' letter, the city manager said they have offered free insect repellant to all staff members and have given pregnant women the opportunity to be reassigned if they work within the Zika zone.

"Since the U.S. Center for Disease Control has issued specific warnings only with respect to pregnant women, at the beginning of the declaration of the Zika zone we immediately offered to allow pregnant employees that work in the zone the opportunity to take a leave of absence, using their accrued leave, or be assigned to another work location outside the Zika zone, to the extent possible," Morales wrote.

The FOP said that everyone needs to be concerned about contracting the virus because health officials do not yet know what the long-term effects are.

Sgt. Michelle Sayegh was the first police officer to be diagnosed with the virus. She told Local 10 News that she had swollen hands, a rash from head to toe and is still dealing with pain.

A second officer received positive test results last week, but does not want to be identified.

Both have been denied workers comp.

The union leadership believes city leaders need to set a precedent and a standard for the rest of the state and the country as the Zika virus continues to spread.

"Any employee, police officer or otherwise, has a right under state statute to file a claim for workers compensation and the statute sets forth a specific process and clear standards," Morales wrote. "An employee's claim of Zika would be covered by Florida Statutes 440.151(1)(a), which states in part that the employee must show (burden of proof is on the Claimant to prove it) the occupational disease (Zika) was contracted while engaged in employment and he/she must show that the exposure/bite took place while on duty and identify the specific infected mosquito."

Both police officers who contracted the virus work in the Zika zone, but live in areas where the health department said there is no active transmission of the virus.