Many who attended the Sept. 1 preliminary hearing of Sgt. Dan Harder before the Forest Park Police and Fire Commission or read about the hearing were surprised to learn that Harder had taken 54.5 sick days so far this year.
Most of those sick days were actually part of a Family Medical Leave approved by the village, according to Patrick Lucansky, the attorney prosecuting the case against Harder.
Lucansky said that though the charges presented to the commission at the hearing did not mention the Family Medical Leave, that information will be disclosed at the Oct. 13 hearing during which the commission will decide whether to fire Harder, adding that no effort was made to intentionally withhold information.
Harder’s sick day count was only one of several items listed in the charges against him. The bulk of the charges deal with an incident when he allegedly swore at a subordinate officer and another when he allegedly lied to Police Chief James Ryan about his whereabouts during a sick day which was not part of the approved leave.
The number of sick days was not one of the formal violations Harder was charged with, but was listed as factual background in the document containing the charges which was presented to the commission.
Even if Harder’s sick days had not been part of a Family Medical Leave, he would have been well below his allowance of sick days for the year.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement between the Forest Park Patrol Officers and Sergeants represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council and the Village of Forest Park, officers who have been serving for five years or longer are entitled to up to 80 sick days per year.
Those with between 3-5 years experience are given 52 days, while those with 1-3 years can take up to 28 days of sick leave. In their first year, officers receive four sick days.
Unused sick days do not roll over to the next year.
By contrast, Oak Park police officers, also represented by the FOP, get 13 sick days per year regardless of experience.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said last week that he felt the sick day allowance for police officers was excessive, though he said officers were given less sick days now than in their previous contracts.
He said he planned to look into the possibility of reducing the number of sick days allowed, though he said he was just beginning to research the matter. Asked what he thought a fair amount would be, he said “about one per month.”
The FOP is currently in the process of negotiating the police department’s collective bargaining agreement with the village, though it is unknown whether sick days have been raised as an issue during negotiations.
The village declined a Freedom of Information Act Request by the Review for records of sick days taken by individual police officers.
Forest Park firefighters are given six sick days per year, regardless of experience. They are permitted to accumulate up to 90 sick days. The firefighters can also take up to 12 months of paid leave if they are injured on the job.
While the police department’s agreement does not explicitly state an injury leave policy, it refers to state statutes, which also allow up to 12 months of paid leave.
The police department’s sick day arrangement is consistent with that set forth in the village’s employee handbook, though many village employees sick day allowances are negotiated through separate unions and do not follow the handbook’s provisions.
Those represented through the American Federal State County Municipal Employee (AFSCME) union, including employees of the clerks office, building inspectors, custodians, bus drivers at the Community Center, and parking enforcement officers received 30 sick days in 2000, 25 in 2001 and 20 in 2002 and thereafter.
In their case, sick days may be accumulated up to 240 days.
Public works employees, represented by Teamsters Local 705, are given four days of short term sick leave to be used one at a time or all at once. Long term sick leave is on a scale depending on experience: up to three weeks for employees who have been with the department between six months and two years, six weeks for those who have been with the village between two and five years, and 13 weeks for those who have been with the village for more than five years.