COVID-19 and Your Job: What You Should Know

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With the novel coronavirus comes novel legal issues, including questions about work. For example, can your employer tell you to go home if you are sick? Generally, the answer would be yes, since you would pose a health risk to others.  What happens if you do become sick with COVID-19 and you need to stay home? Can your employer fire you? Probably not, at least not right away.  Will you get paid while on sick leave?  Well, that depends.

There are certainly many more questions than there are answers right now. We at the Deuterman Law Group are working hard to keep up with all the latest news and legal challenges that we all will face in the coming weeks and months.

Following is a summary of recent changes in the law which affect your job as a result of COVID-19.  As we move forward, we are sure that you will have many questions, and we will certainly try to find the answers. Please feel free to contact us with questions you may have about COVID-19 and the workplace. As always, our experienced attorneys and staff will try our best to help you in any way we can.

Congress recently approved a new federal law called the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Congress also passed the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act amending the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Here is what you need to know about these new laws, both of which will take effect on April 1.

EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE ACT

This law applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees and entitles full-time employees to 80 hours of paid sick leave when you are unable to work, including telework, due to one of the following reasons:

  1. The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation because of COVID-19.
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19.
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation, or who has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19. 
  5. The employee is caring for a child of the employee if the school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of such child is unavailable because of COVID-19.

You are entitled to this sick leave regardless of how long you have worked for your current employer. The amount of pay you are entitled to depends on why you took the sick leave. If the reason for the sick leave is for numbers 1-3 above (taking care of yourself), and you are a full-time employee, you get your regular rate of pay for up to 80 hours. 

If you are a part-time employee, you are entitled to the number of hours you usually work, on average, during a two-week period.  The amount of sick leave for these reasons (1-3 above) cannot exceed $511 per day.

If the reason for the sick leave is for numbers 4-5 above, which includes caring for a child whose school or place of care has closed, however, you are only entitled to two-thirds of your regular rate of pay. The amount of sick leave for these reasons (4-5 above) cannot exceed $200 per day.

Also, this new sick leave can be used prior to and in addition to any other sick leave, vacation leave, or other PTO you may have. In other words, your employer cannot force you to take other PTO before you take this new, federally-mandated sick leave.

Finally, this new sick leave benefit expires on December 31, 2020.

So what happens if your employer refuses to pay this sick leave or discharges, disciplines or otherwise discriminates against you for taking this sick leave? The law specifically allows you to bring a lawsuit against your employer and collect money damages.

The other new law just passed by Congress amends the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is called the:

EMERGENCY FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE EXPANSION ACT

This new law also applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees and provides paid leave to an employee who is unable to work, including telework, due to the need to take care of a child under the age of 18 whose school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19.

To be eligible for this benefit, you have to be employed by your current employer for at least 30 calendar days. The first 10 days (two weeks) of leave under the amended FMLA are unpaid. But unlike the original FMLA, the remaining 10 weeks (of FMLA’s 12-week leave period) are paid at two-thirds of your regular rate of pay for the number of hours that you would otherwise be normally scheduled to work. This paid leave, however, caps at $200 per day.

This new FMLA benefit expires on December 31, 2020.

So how about those who work for large companies with 500 or more employees? These employees are not covered by either the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act or the amended FMLA.

However, you may still be covered under the original Family and Medical Leave Act. This means that you could be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, assuming that COVID-19 is considered a “serious health condition.”

 To be eligible for coverage under the original FMLA, you would need to have worked for your current employer at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. And of course, depending on the company you work for, you might also have accrued sick, vacation or other paid time off that you could use.

Both the EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE ACT and EMERGENCY FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE EXPANSION ACT will take effect on April 1 and will apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.  

Given that many of our local governments, including Greensboro, Guilford County, High Point, and Winston-Salem have just instituted “stay at home” orders, you may be eligible for the sick leave benefits under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act if you are not allowed to go to work. If you think you are entitled to this benefit but have been denied by your employer, give us a call at DLG.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT

In addition to these two new federal benefits, there are still state unemployment benefits which you may be eligible to collect if you are laid off from work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress recently approved additional funding for states for their unemployment insurance benefits. In North Carolina, unemployment benefits fall under the N.C. Division of Employment Security of the NC Department of Commerce. You can file for unemployment benefits online.

As new COVID-19 issues emerge, we will let you know. In the meantime, always remember to contact the Deuterman Law Group for all your legal needs, including Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability, Veterans Disability, Auto Accidents and Personal Injury, Employment Law and more.

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