5 Questions and Answers About Coronavirus and Workers’ Rights

The coronavirus has created numerous complications in the workplace that may have some employees confused. How can you keep the rent paid while keeping yourself and your family safe? Below we answer some of the most common questions that come up about workers’ rights during these unusual times.

1. What If I Get COVID-19?

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you may worry that you don’t have enough sick leave to cover the time you’ll need to quarantine and recover. Current federal law allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave due to a medical condition, though to qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months for an average of 24 hours per week. Qualified employees are also given leave to care for a loved one for up to 26 weeks.

In addition, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law in April 2020, allows employees who work for employers of less than 500 employees to take up to 80 hours of emergency sick leave. You qualify for this type of leave if you are subject to a quarantine or isolation order, if you suffer from symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a diagnosis, or if you’re caring for a child because school or daycare was closed.

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FLMA) prevents an employer from firing you if you get sick.

2. Will I Still Get Paid?

Whether you will be paid for extra time off due to COVID-19 depends on your employer and your state laws. The FFCRA allows qualified employees taking the 80 hours of emergency sick leave to be paid at the regular rate if quarantined, or if seeking a COVID-19 diagnosis. It also allows employees to be paid at two-thirds of their regular rate if they’re unable to work because they have to care for another individual.

3. Can I Choose to Work from Home? Do I Have To?

Whereas some companies have mandated that employees work from home, others have still required employees to come into work. Currently, there are no legal rights concerning telecommuting. If you have an underlying disability that puts you at high risk for the virus (such as asthma, heart disease, or compromised immune system), you may have a right to work from home if that is reasonable with your job. This protection doesn’t apply to those jobs that cannot be performed remotely.

The FFCRA permits an additional ten weeks of leave at two-thirds pay if you are unable to work due to bona fide childcare needs related to COVID-19. In other words, if your daycare closed or your child care provider fell ill with the virus, you can claim an additional ten weeks of sick leave at two-thirds pay.

If your employer requires you to work from home, they are within their rights to do that for reasons of health and safety. If you have costs related to setting up a home office, and the expenses cause your weekly pay to drop below the minimum wage, you may have a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or some state laws.

4. What If I’m Worried About Catching the Virus at Work?

Employers are not required under law to pay you for staying home from work because you’re worried about getting sick. Your employer may allow exceptions, though, so it won’t hurt to ask.

5. What if My Employer Cuts My Hours?

In most circumstances, an employer does have the right to cut your hours or lay you off, but they must provide advanced notice. In the case of mass layoffs or business closings, employers must give affected employees 60 days advanced written notice. In the case of cutting hours, some states require employers to provide schedules in advance and pay workers when they remove or add shifts. Check with your workplace rights attorney for more information.