Time Off and Benefits for Workers Impacted by COVID-19

For some workers in essential jobs, continuing to work during the pandemic is not an option.  For workers with have compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, the risk of increased exposure to COVID-19 may be simply too great to continue working. Workers whose employers refuse take adequate steps to provide a safe work environment may decide the risk of continuing to work is simply too high. And, of course, workers who are sick should absolutely stay home to avoid spreading the virus to coworkers and the public. Missing pay can be a major hardship, but fortunately new laws mandate paid sick leave for some workers and expanded unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19.

 

Paid Sick Leave

On March 18, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which covers workplaces with between 50 and 500 employees. FFCRA requires that employers provide:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is quarantined and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee has a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine, or to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19; and

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, needs leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable because of COVID-19.

 

More information on who is eligible is available from the US Department of Labor.

Unemployment Benefits

Congress has also provided funding for expanded unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. These expanded benefits fall into two categories:

  • Weekly benefits for all unemployed workers, unemployed for any reason, are increased by $600 a week for up to six months and adds 13 weeks of benefits on to the number of weeks a state currently pays benefits.

  • The law expands coverage for workers not qualified for regular unemployment benefits, including workers who have exhausted regular unemployment benefits, independent contractors, sole proprietors or anyone who would not qualify for regular benefits. These workers are now entitled to unemployment benefits where:

    • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;

    • A worker is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and

    • A worker leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member (different states are interpreting eligibility for this in different ways so please make sure to check with your state’s unemployment insurance program for details in your state before leaving your job).

 

Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, and there are some significant differences in how state administrators choose to interpret exactly who is covered. For more information regarding rules in your state, contact with your state’s unemployment insurance program.

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