The imminent danger the world has been facing since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to accept restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19. Besides the evident hazard to public health, this life-threatening respiratory disease presents a serious challenge for the global economy. Businesses all over America struggle with the issue of supporting their workforce during these challenging times. Simultaneously, workers experience a high level of stress due to the realization that they expose themselves to severe health risks by coming to work every day.
This guide will provide a comprehensive review of extended emergency acts like the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Extended Act – both parts of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This specific legislation provides necessary protection and relief to workers during the COVID 19 crisis. Simultaneously, they award tax credits to private companies employing under 500 workers. These tax credits are meant to assist these companies with the expenses related to offering paid leaves due to COVID 19. Thanks to FFCRA regulations, workers will not need to choose between preserving their health and earning their salary.
Besides the right to emergency benefits, workers also have a right to work in a safe and protected environment. Many people believe that everyone can work from home, while having their food and other necessities delivered during this severe health crisis. This is a widespread misconception. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that less than 30% of employees in the USA have the opportunity to work remotely. This survey also showed that only 19.7% of African American workers, along with 16.2% of Hispanoamericans, can work from home. This data also proves that, as far as being able to work from home is concerned, there are significant discrepancies among people of different races and national origins. As such, this article will focus on OSH guidelines on preparing workplaces for COVID 19, which every business owner needs to implement to ensure safety and health in the workplace.
Furthermore, you will find all you need to know about provisions for workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the Coronavirus crisis. Namely, the US economy will suffer long-lasting negative consequences of restrictive measures like the COVID-19 lockdown. Numerous companies have already begun to lay off and furlough employees to cut costs and attempt to save their businesses. This guide has been prepared to inform workers of their rights, such as the right to unemployment insurance, as stated in the FFCRA.
Emergency Benefits for Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic
Facing the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak on workers’ health, the US Department of labor brought a series of acts providing emergency benefits for workers to help them endure this dangerous health crisis. Two temporary acts that provided financial support in the form of paid leave came into existence on April the 2nd – Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (ESPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. These acts are both parts of broader Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Besides offering workers necessary protection, the FFCR Act will provide tax credits to businesses with fewer than 500 employees as compensation for the costs and expenses of paid leaves. In this way, workers will not be forced to choose between their job and their health, while companies will not need to worry about firing employees. This FFCR Act that tackles various business operation issues and workers’ rights during the Coronavirus outbreak will expire on December 31st, 2020. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division will be responsible for administering the paid leave benefits amounts to the FFCRA during this period.
According to the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, employers will be required to provide eligible employees with:
- Two weeks paid sick leave (80 hours) in case the worker is put into quarantine by federal, state, or local government orders, or by the recommendation of their health care provider. Workers may be unable to work because they experience coronavirus symptoms and are in need of medical help. Under these circumstances, workers will be paid their regular rate of pay.
- Two weeks paid sick leave (up to 80 hours) at two-thirds of their normal pay rate for employees who need to take care of a family member who has been put in quarantine, following federal, state, or local authorities’ orders. Employees who need to take care of children because schools and childcare facilities have been closed due to the COVID-19 restrictive measures also have the right to this emergency benefit.
- An employee who has been with a company for more than 30 days has the right to a two-week paid leave accompanied by an additional ten paid weeks to provide care for a minor child. This benefit is provided by the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act because all schools and child care facilities have been shut down to prevent the spread of this respiratory infection.
All employers need to comply with these rules, except for businesses employing fewer than 50 workers. They can qualify for the exemption of providing a 10-week additional paid leave for child care because this prolonged paid absence may jeopardize the business’s sustainability.
Specific public workers and employees at businesses with fewer than 500 people have the right to these emergency benefits. On the other hand, federal workers covered by Act II of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are not included in the emergency paid sick and family leaves devised in FFCRA. This is because they are eligible to paid sick leave according to the above-mentioned FMLA act.
Workers qualify for getting paid leave from work under the following conditions:
- When they are required to stay in quarantine or isolation by federal, state, or local government order.
- When their health care provider advises this.
- When they suffer from Coronavirus symptoms and are in need of medical care.
- When they take care of a family member ordered to stay in quarantine or stay in isolation following doctor’s orders.
- When they provide care for a minor child or children because schools and child care institutions are shut down due to the COVID 19.
These are the amounts that workers claiming this paid leave can expect to receive on average:
- If they claim this leave for reasons 1 or 2, they will get financial support ranging from $511 per day or a cumulative sum of $5,110 for two weeks.
- On the other hand, workers taking paid leave for reason 4 will receive two-thirds of their normal pay rate or current minimum wage- whichever is higher. This means they will get up to $200 daily or $2000 overall over two weeks.
- If you are a worker in need of paid leave for reason number 5, you will get financial compensation from up to $200 to $12000 to cover two weeks of sick leave. This will be accompanied by an additional ten weeks reserved for caring for a minor child.
The FFCRA requires employers to abide by these rules and provide guaranteed paid leave to all employees that qualify for it. The FFCRA offers dollar-for-dollar compensation through tax credits for all the qualifying amounts paid under this act. Qualifying wages are those the workers receive for taking a leave from work for qualifying reasons listed above.
Each covered business owner needs to place a poster with the FFCRA requirements in a readily apparent place on-premise. Furthermore, employers may not fire, discipline, or in any other way discriminate against workers who use this FFCRA-regulated paid leave. This also applies to workers filing complaints or initiating proceedings related to the FFCRA emergency benefits.
Some employers may fail to provide the two-week paid sick leave or unlawfully terminate these payments. These employers will be subjected to penalties and enforcement presented in the specific sections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The same goes for the employers who deny workers the right to additional ten-week paid leave to take care of children because schools and child care institutions have shut down during the COVID-19 crisis. They will be required to provide these benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
FAQs related to COVID and the Fair Labor Standard Act
People have raised many questions related to FLSA during the Coronavirus crisis, attempting to protect their rights in these challenging times. Here are the answers to some of these burning issues.
- The FLSA contains strict regulations regarding the use of volunteers. Make sure you are well-informed about these requirements in case your employer faces a workforce shortage and looks for volunteers to help. In general, covered, non-exempt workers employed at private, profitable businesses need to be paid at least a minimum wage for their services and should never work as volunteers. You should check with the Department of Labor regulations describing the circumstances when workers in public and private sectors may provide volunteering services.
-  They should offer these employees a work-from-home option accompanied by paid sick leave.
- Thus, employers should encourage the telework option as a safety measure to prevent the spread of disease, which is a form of reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation includes any workplace adjustment that enables workers with disabilities to perform their jobs and use the privileges and benefits in the same way as other employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses with more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodation. Also, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that allowing disabled people to work remotely may be considered a reasonable accommodation.
The Right to Work in a Healthy and Safe Environment
Apart from the right to financial support through paid leaves, employees also have a right to work in a safe and protected workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have already concluded, the majority of employees cannot do their jobs from home. This means essential workers are increasingly exposed to this dangerous and potentially deadly virus due to interactions with coworkers or the public at unprotected workplaces.
For this reason, all the frontline healthcare givers, emergency responders, and numerous other employees who cannot work from home need to be protected. Thus, employers should implement all the protective measures from the OSHA guidance on preparing the workplace for the COVID-19 pandemic. In this way, they will provide essential safety and protect workers from contracting this respiratory virus. Furthermore, employers need to address all the workers’ complaints related to safety and health and not retaliate against those who point out specific coronavirus-related safety issues.
Here are some of the essential measures every employer needs to implement to protect essential workers from contracting the COVID-19 virus:
- Bear in mind that physical distancing is one of the essential measures used in the fight against coronavirus. Provide at least six feet of distance between workers or workers and customers.
- Everyone at the workplace needs to wear cotton masks. Besides publishing the guide on the best type and use of protective masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends wearing cotton face masks in public.
- Provide sufficient amounts of hand sanitizers at the workplace. If soap and water are not available at the premises, employers need to provide sufficient hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Do not share equipment. Workers should avoid using other’s working equipment or tools.
- Keep the work environment clean and disinfected by performing regular disinfection of the premises, equipment, and surfaces.
- Enable natural ventilation by letting fresh air circulate throughout the workplace.
- Clean and disinfect facilities that have been exposed to coronavirus, as experts believe this harmful virus can survive on surfaces for days.
The Rights of Laid Off or Furloughed Workers
Many businesses face difficult decisions on whether to fire or furlough workers and try to stay solvent during the coronavirus-induced economic crisis. Although firing should be the last measure severely affected businesses should resort to, workers need to be well-informed about their rights in case they lose their jobs. First, employees need to know that the FFCRA has devised several types of unemployment insurance meant for workers who have been fired or furloughed due to the coronavirus crises. This guide will provide you with several steps you need to take to claim this insurance.
- Workers should require their employer to provide relevant documentation proving the termination is the result of adverse COVID-19 effects on the business. This will alleviate the completion and approval process of valid UI applications.
- Stay informed on recently devised UI programs that offer emergency benefits or extend existing workers’ eligibility for unemployment insurance.
Three Unemployment Insurance program related to COVID-19-induced layoffs are:
Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
This program ensures that all workers who claim this type of unemployment insurance by July 31st, get calculated benefits with an additional $600 weekly compensation. This is the flat amount for workers using unemployment insurance, including those eligible for the Unemployed Pandemic Assistance program. This compensation needs to be paid regularly on a weekly basis, either with the regular UI or as a separate payment.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
The majority of states, including New York, offer 26-week unemployment insurance to workers who have lost their jobs. This unemployment compensation plan provides an additional 13 weeks of paid insurance to those whose regular UI has expired. To be eligible for this benefit, people need to search for work actively. However, many states will show flexibility in fulfilling this condition, since coronavirus restrictive measures may prolong their search for employment.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
This is financial support for those who have exhausted other unemployment insurance options, regular and extended, or are excluded from regular state UI. PUA insurance will cover up to 39 weeks for all employees immediately eligible for this assistance. Workers targeted by this UI program are self-employed independent contractors, freelancers, and people seeking part-time jobs. These workers are not eligible for regular state-provided unemployment insurance.
Getting necessary health insurance once you lose employer-sponsored insurance is crucial in the midst of a severe health crisis. Terminated workers need to know that they become automatically eligible for the special enrollment period through the ACA (Affordable Care Act). They may also qualify for a Medicaid premium subsidy.
This guide to workers’ rights during the Coronavirus crisis offered a detailed insight into issues that concern many workers in these troubling times. Its aim is to inform working people about various financial benefits they can claim due to the COVID-19 situation, along with the critical health and safety OSHA requirements employers need to comply with to protect workers.
Finally, workers who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis will find various types of unemployment insurance programs to support them until they find new employment. If you think your employer has violated any of these regulations or is preventing you from benefiting from these rights, please contact Cilenty&Cooper law firm and let us help you enforce your rights.