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Employees Right During COVID-19

The coronavirus has thrown the entire world into disarray, and we have seen hardships, sickness, and many deaths.

In an effort to help American workers, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced how employees and their employers can benefit from the protections and relief offered by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which are both part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

On April 1st, the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor issued a temporary rule issuing regulations pursuant to this new law. The rules went into effect upon release.

The federal government says that the FFCRA will help American workers and companies combat and defeat COVID-19. The new law will reimburse private employers in America with fewer than 500 employees with tax credits for the cost of providing their employees with paid leave that’s taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The law will make certain that workers aren’t forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures required to combat the virus, while at the same time helping businesses.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave that relates to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. The new rules will apply until the end of the year.

Employee rights during COVID-19

How Do I Know if my Employer is a “Covered Employer”?

The paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA apply to certain public employers, and private employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Most federal government employees are covered by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act (the FMLA, which wasn’t amended by the FFCRA); as a result, they aren’t covered by the expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA. However, federal employees covered by Title II of the FMLA are covered by the paid sick leave provision.

The Department of Labor explained that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child care unavailability if the leave requirements would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”

How Do I Know if I’m Eligible?

All employees of covered employers are eligible for two weeks of paid sick time for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Those employees who have worked for at least 30 days are eligible for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to care for a child under certain situations related to COVID-19. Those who are denied are suggested to talk to an employment lawyer who fights for workplace rights

Notice: Where leave is foreseeable, an employee should provide notice of leave to the employer as is practicable. After the first workday of paid sick time, an employer may require employees to follow reasonable notice procedures in order to continue receiving paid sick time.

How Much Leave is Available?

To reiterate, the U.S. Department of Labor stated that as a general rule, the FFCRA provides that employees of covered employers are eligible for the following:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay in the event that the employee can’t work because:
    • the employee is quarantined (pursuant to federal, state, or local government order or advice of a physician); and/or
    • the employee is experiencing coronavirus symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;

or

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at ⅔ the employee’s regular rate of pay because:
    • the employee cannot work due to a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to federal, state, or local government order or advice of a physician); or
    • to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to coronavirus; and/or
    • the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor;

plus

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at ⅔ the employee’s regular pay when an employee, who’s been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to the coronavirus.

Can my employer fire me if I have COV19?

FMLA and other federal laws protect qualified individuals absent from work because of a serious health condition. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with a disability. Pre-existing health conditions that are exacerbated by COV19 could be considered a serious health condition and thus, disabled. Besides prohibiting discrimination, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodates for such individuals.

The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that disrupts a normal functional life. Such examples are cooking, light exercise, and going out to stock on essential needs.

Some states offer extended accommodations and greater protections for employees through their local and state laws.

Can my employer cut my hours or lay me off?

There are specific laws that protect employees from mass layoffs. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires companies to give affected employees 60-days advanced written notice of the mass layoff or closure of the worksite. Some states have their own variation of the WARN Act that may provide greater protection.

Additionally, several states require an employer to provide work schedules in advance and pay workers when shifts are taken away or added.

Finally, if you were laid off, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits, which vary according to the state you live in.