Paid Leave in the COVID-19 Health Emergency - Know Your Rights

If you work at a small or midsize company, you have certain workplace rights related to the coronavirus that you might not know about. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires employers to cover a designated amount of leave for their employees who cannot work due to the impact of COVID-19, through the end of 2020. In addition, this bill includes employer reimbursement provisions, as well as funding for free coronavirus testing, nutrition security, and unemployment extension.

We took an informal poll among colleagues who work in various industries, and not a single one had heard of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act nor knew what it does, even though it has been in effect since April 1, 2020. It has also been required by law for businesses to post notice of the FFCRA in the workplace (or electronically). The stipulations within the law are so vast and its text is so littered with complex legalese that even if you’ve come across a mention of the FFCRA before, it’s no surprise that you might be unaware of its purpose or stumped on how it can protect your income and your employment.

But we at EmmaWell want you to know your rights - in plain English - which is why we parsed the dense text of this new federal law and laid out some major points here. We hope that giving you a clear picture of your options as an employee in the midst of the coronavirus crisis might provide some relief or hope during a stressful time.

What can the FFCRA do for me as an employee?

The law provides two provisions for those affected by COVID-19 who cannot work/telework:

  1. Emergency Paid Sick Leave covers time off work for all employees who cannot continue working due to COVID-19 for up to two weeks (80 hours).

  2. Public Health Emergency Leave expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for instances when childcare becomes unavailable due to COVID-19 and provides an additional 12 weeks of family leave (10 of which are paid).

What conditions would make me eligible for paid leave under the FFCRA?

If you are unable to work or telework because:

  1. You have been subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  2. You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.

  3. You are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.

  4. You need to provide care for an individual who is infected or has to remain quarantined.

  5. You need to provide care for your child(ren) whose school or childcare provider has become unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions.

  6. You are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

You can also use this handy eligibility assessment tool on the Department of Labor’s website.

How much of my income can I continue to receive if I’ve been advised to quarantine or have symptoms of COVID-19 (reasons 1-3 above)?

While you are not working under emergency paid sick leave, you will receive 100% of either your regular rate of pay or the minimum wage where you are employed (whichever is greater). Your employer is not required under the law to pay you more than $511 per day ($5,110 total) in this scenario. You may also be eligible for additional income under unemployment insurance or state temporary disability insurance.

How much of my income can I continue to receive if I am responsible for the care of my child or someone else whose health has been impacted by COVID-19 (reasons 4-6) above?

You may use emergency paid sick leave for this reason at a rate of two-thirds of either your regular salary or the minimum wage where you are employed (whichever is greater). Your employer is not required under the law to pay you more than $200 per day ($2,000 total) if you are taking leave to care for another individual.

If you are unable to work for family reasons, you may also be eligible to take emergency family leave, which counts towards your 12-week FMLA entitlement. After the first (unpaid) ten days of leave, you will be paid at a reduced rate, which is generally two-thirds of your regular rate. The law sets a maximum daily payment of $200 and a maximum total leave amount of $12,000.

What criteria do I have to meet to be covered under the FFCRA?

If you work part-time or full-time for a private company with less than 500 employees or for any federal, state, or local government agency, you are entitled to emergency paid leave under the FFCRA. If you meet these criteria and have been at your job at least 30 days, then you may also take up to 12 weeks of emergency paid family leave when your child’s school or childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.

If you work for a health care provider or emergency responder, your rights lie in a gray area, as your work is considered essential to the U.S. for detecting the disease, saving lives, or curbing the pandemic. Employers that fall under this category include doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, medical labs, drug manufacturers, and nursing facilities. Unfortunately, it is at the discretion of your employer to grant or deny you emergency sick time or family leave.