COVID-19 Workplace Rights

Employee Rights In Light of COVID-19: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”)

Unfortunately, what has been widely referred to in the media as our “New Normal” is still nothing but “normal” and far from “familiar” to both employees and businesses alike. In what feels like the blink of an eye, American businesses have been forced to shut their doors, cease business operations, send home employees, turn away customers – or—if still operating, continue those operations under a whole new set of rules and regulations.

We have all learned new terms, such as “essential business,” “presumed positive” “social-distancing” and, of course…Coronavirus/COVID-19. We are all struggling to stay healthy, stay safe and survive a virulent threat to our lives and our livelihood. Employees and Employers, alike, face uncertainty and the economic realities of life amid “shelter in place” order, shut downs, business interruption and necessary changes in the way we operate our business.

During these incredibly difficult times, new laws have been passed to protect employee workplace rights. In some cases, eligible employees who work for covered employers can take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires public and private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide certain paid leave to eligible employees. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. Employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who lawfully takes paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA, files a complaint, or institutes a proceeding under or related to this Act. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Can my employer fire me for missing work due to Covid-19?

Generally, the FFCRA provides for the following relief:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of  paid sick leave  at the employee’s regular  rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), 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 is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), 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 COVID-19, 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; 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, 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 COVID-19.

Importantly, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption 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.

Qualifying Reasons for Leave:

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for paid sick time if the employee is unable to work (or unable to telework) due to a need for leave because the employee:

  1. is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
  5. is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
  6. is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for expanded family leave if the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19. For more information on the FFCRA or employee leave rights in light of COVID-19, click here: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/whd/posters/ffcra_poster_wh1422_non-federal.pdf

State Laws:

In addition to the FFCRA, certain states have passed certain laws to protect employees and employers.

Illinois is an “at-will” employment state, which means an employer may terminate an employee at any time and without any reason. However, an employer cannot discriminate, harass or terminate an employee based on: age, race, color, gender/sex, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, citizenship status, marital status, or military service.

With respect to COVID-19, individuals that wish to stay at home because of fear or concern over the virus may be able to use sick leave or vacation time to be away from work. Many employers have enacted policies regarding COVID-19 and sick leave. Thus, employees should discuss various options available with a manager, supervisor, or HR department.

If you have been terminated or “laid-off” because of COVID-19, an employer does not have any obligation to continue paying you for hours or time that you are not working. However, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits. For unemployment benefits questions, contact the Illinois Department of Employment Security at 1-800-244-5631 or online at  www2.illinois.gov/ides.

If you believe that you have been denied leave for reasons related to COVID-19, call one of our experienced Illinois employment attorneys to set up a free consultation. Contact us online or by telephone at 630-232-7450.

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