As the state starts to re-open, employees concerned with their safety during the pandemic are curious about their rights. The United States Department of Labor has issued the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in an attempt to address these concerns and protect employees.
The FFRCA requires employers, of less than 500 employees, to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Under the FFCRA employees are eligible for:
“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.” Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights (March, 2020).
However, there are only a few situations that allow an employee to benefit from FFRCA. Those reasons include:
“is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
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
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.” Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights (March, 2020).
Therefore, if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptome or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine you may qualify for these benefits. Furthermore, if your child school or day care provider is closed due to the Coronavirus, you still qualify for compensation under FFCRA.
However, what happens when you are just feeling uncomfortable about going back to work? Unfortunately, employers have the right to dictate the terms of employment. Therefore, employees would still need to follow the direction of their employers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has come out with some guidelines for employers to follow during the COID-19 pandemic. Those guidelines include wearing gloves, eye and face protection and respiratory protection if necessary.
If you are still feeling unsafe, OSHA is hearing and trying to fix employee’s concerns. Furthermore, “Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC 660(c), prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions.” Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, (May 18, 2020).
Therefore, if you are still feeling unsafe it is important to do two things. First, try to raise the concern with your employer. These are trying times for everyone. Companies are struggling right alongside employees. However, if the situation is not resolved, then it might be time to report the situation to OSHA.
Furthermore, if you qualify for assistance under FFCRA it is important to apply quickly as the provisions currently only apply through December 31, 2020.