LA sheriff, county clash over retroactive pay for deputies ordered to quarantine

Sheriff Alex Villanueva asked for retroactive pay for officers who had to dip into their personal sick leave; county officials said he was 'picking a political fight'


Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Since last month, the Sheriff's Department has sent 209 employees home to quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus, and issues over their pay have caused another squabble between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and county leaders.

In a letter Wednesday, Villanueva requested that the county's chief executive secure retroactive pay for quarantined employees who he said have had to dip into their personal sick leave prior to Wednesday, when federal benefits for workers impacted by the virus took effect.

Sachi Hamai, CEO of LA County (center) and Sheriff Alex Villanueva clashed over whether the county should pay officers who dipped into their personal sick leave for COVID-19-related quarantine. (Photo/TNS)
Sachi Hamai, CEO of LA County (center) and Sheriff Alex Villanueva clashed over whether the county should pay officers who dipped into their personal sick leave for COVID-19-related quarantine. (Photo/TNS)

Villanueva said there was at least one employee exposed to the virus on patrol who had not accrued enough sick time to stay compensated through the quarantine period. It's unclear if that person lost out on any pay, and if so, how much.

"The first responders from the Sheriff's Department sacrifice their lives for the residents of Los Angeles County every day," he wrote. "The least we can do is fully compensate these men and women for their daily sacrifices by covering their COVID-19 related absence from work."

The county's chief executive, Sachi Hamai, fired back, saying that Villanueva continues to bring issues to the media "with the sole purpose of picking a political fight." She suggested that the authority to put employees on paid administrative leave lies with the sheriff.

"The Sheriff is responsible for his own decisions if he ordered employees to be placed on home leave," Hamai said in the statement. "As a department head, he should be well aware that employees he orders to stay at home should be placed on paid administrative leave."

The conflict comes a day after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to put Hamai in charge of disaster preparedness and response. In doing so, the board removed Villanueva as head of the emergency operations center.

That action led Villanueva to cancel the regular press briefings he had been hosting at the center multiple times a week. And it has once again highlighted the long-running power struggle between board members and the sheriff, who have clashed over a variety of issues, including hiring and spending, since Villanueva took office in December 2018.

As of Monday, four Sheriff's Department employees — two in the custody division, one in court services and one in patrol — had tested positive for COVID-19.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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