The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the lives of the American people. Wearing masks and washing hands will continue to be the new normal for many months to come. For employees who need to go into work instead of working remotely, COVID-19 has created many questions surrounding safety protocols and the rights of workers.
Many employees are worried about being exposed to COVID-19 while at work and believe that their employers should be doing all they can to keep workers safe. Falling ill or having to take care of family members who have the virus is also a concern for workers. Many people fear that not being able to work will have a negative impact on their finances and will cause issues that they are unable to solve. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have created guidelines on how to properly handle COVID-19 in the workplace and the rights of employees. If a worker falls ill from the virus or needs to stay home for other reasons, they are encouraged to seek compensation.
How can COVID-19 Prevent Me from Working?
COVID-19 may prevent many people from going to work or making a living. Here are some ways COVID-19 may cause a disruption in a person’s work life:
- The need to quarantine from exposure to the virus or from a positive test result.
- Illness of a sick family member.
- Anxiety or panic disorders triggered from the virus.
- Unsafe workplace or positive test results from other workers.
- Lack of work.
- Furloughed or fired.
No matter the circumstance, it is important to hire an employment lawyer to ensure that one’s rights are being protected. Obtaining compensation during this time can be very confusing. A lawyer will help their client through the process and help them apply for the correct leaves.
Can My Employer Force Me to Stay Home if I Have Symptoms or Tested Positive for COVID-19?
According to the CDC, an employer has the right to force a worker to stay home from work if they have symptoms or tested positive. This is done to protect other workers from potential exposure and from causing the workplace to shut down. An employer can also ask a worker who has been out of work because of COVID-19 for a doctor’s note stating that they are cleared to work.
If a person is infected with the virus, they will have to quarantine for at least two weeks before returning back to work. Many employers require their employees to quarantine for two weeks from the date of their positive test. The CDC has the most accurate protocols for employers to follow if they are not sure how to handle exposure.
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
An employer cannot fire or punish an employee if they miss work due to having COVID-19. However, the laws governing COVID-19 and the workplace are constantly changing. Many workers continue to fear that they will lose their jobs or not be able to pay their bills if they must stay home due to the virus.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that state and local government employees and some private employers are required to provide 12 weeks of job-protected leave for family and medical reasons, including COVID-19. A person needs to have worked for their employer for at least 30 days to qualify for FMLA leave.
The worker does not have to be paid for FMLA leave for the first 10 days. Employees can use any paid leave that they have during this time for compensation. For the next 10 weeks of leave, an employer must pay two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate for each day the worker is normally scheduled. This ensures that workers are still getting paid in the circumstance that they have COVID-19 and cannot work.
What About Sick Leave?
If a worker is sick or needs time off to take care of others, they may be edible for New Jersey Earned Sick Leave. This would be paid by the employer. This type of compensation is only available for specific individuals who meet certain criteria.
One may also apply for temporary disability insurance, which would provide compensation. Short-term and long-term disability benefits are available to those who qualify for it.
What Happens if I am Furloughed?
If an employer has furloughed a worker due to the pandemic, the employee is entitled to unemployment benefits through the government. These benefits will allow the worker to receive a paycheck, despite not being at work. This type of compensation requires the employee to fill out an application and regularly update it with information about their employment status. The worker will receive at least 80 percent of their normal pay.
What if I Cannot Work Because of a Sick Family Member?
If an employee is unable to go to work because a family member has COVID-19, the employer may allow the worker to work from home. If not, the employer may or may not pay the worker during the quarantine period. If not, the worker should apply for sick leave, family caregiver leave, family medical leave, or critical illness leave.
What Should I Do if My Mental Health is Being Affected by COVID-19?
COVID-19 has caused many people to worry about what would happen if they contracted the virus or a family member falls ill. If COVID-19 is causing stress, anxiety, panic, depression, or interference with work, then one may have a short-term disability claim.
COVID-19 may trigger a new or existing mental illness. If a worker’s mental health is being affected, they should seek medical help immediately. This will make it easier for the worker to apply for short-term or long-term disability insurance. An employer cannot fire a worker for this type of leave.
Unsafe Working Conditions
If a person is unable to work because of unsafe conditions, it is the employer’s responsibility to improve the environment. An employer needs to protect their employees from being exposed to COVID-19 and make sure their workplace is following correct Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. This may include asking an employee who has traveled to stay home, providing personal protective equipment (PPE), or providing employees with the option to work from home.
An employee can also do their part to help make their work environment safer. Wearing masks, gloves in public areas, sanitizing work stations, and staying home when sick is just a few of the ways to prevent the spread of the virus. If one contracts COVID-19 and is unable to work, they should consult with a lawyer about their rights.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate on the Behalf of Workers Affected by COVID-19
If you are unable to work due to the ongoing pandemic, contact a Cherry Hill employment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. for help with your case. Our dedicated team will work with you to ensure that your rights are protected. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.