COVID-19: What Are Your Rights in the Workplace?

We know many employees are facing uncertainty about their jobs in light of the current pandemic. You may have questions about what you can do if you are sick, or if you have been laid off due to cuts that have been made as a result of COVID-19 /Coronavirus. Many government agencies have put out guidance on how employees can protect themselves and benefits they may be entitled to if they are out of work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Below we have summarized some resources that we hope will be helpful.

 

Sick with or Exposed to COVID-19

In California, the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave within a 12 month period to care for yourself or your immediate family if they have a serious health condition. A serious health condition includes any illness that causes any period of incapacity requiring absence from work, school, or other regular daily activities for more than 3 consecutive days. To be eligible for CFRA leave, you must have been employed with your employer for 12 months and you must have worked at least 1250 hours in that twelve month period and your employer must employ 50 or more people within a 75 mile radius. While the CFRA does not provide pay, other laws may provide wage replacement, and your employer may also have other benefits and programs that you may be able to utilize during this time.

If you are unable to work because you have been diagnosed with or if you have been exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional) you can apply for disability insurance which will cover partial wage replacement. Contact your doctor for assistance with a medical certification if you believe you have, or have been exposed to COVID-19. While there is normally a one-week unpaid waiting period that period has been waived under the Governor’s Executive Order.  EDD Website

If you have paid sick leave available, your employer must provide the leave and compensate you under the California paid sick leave laws. You may use sick leave for absences due to your own illness or the care of a family member. California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement

 

Caregiving

As described above, you may be entitled to job-protected leave if you are caring for an immediate family member who has COVID-19 under the California Family Rights Act. (See above.) CFRA is unpaid leave so below are some options on obtaining wage replacement if you are caring for a family member.

If you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member (child, parent parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner) with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional) you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides for six weeks of benefits to eligible workers. EDD Website

With lots of schools closing, many parents are unable to work because they need to care for their children. If this is the case, you may be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. However, there are eligibility requirements including whether you have any other care options and/or if you can continue working your normal hours remotely. You should contact an EDD representative to determine eligibility. EDD Website

If you work at a worksite with 25 or more employees, you may also be entitled to 40 hours of leave per year for school-related emergencies, including the closure of school or daycare by civil authorities. Whether the leave is paid or unpaid depends on the employer’s policies. You may be required to use your vacation or paid time off before you are allowed to take unpaid leave but the employer cannot require you to use paid sick leave. DLSE Website

 

Reduced Work Hours

If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19 you can file a claim for unemployment insurance, which provides wage replacement benefits. This is true for workers who have lost their job, or who have had their hours reduced through no fault of their own. Again, the normal one-week unpaid waiting period is waived. EDD Website

 

Other Wage Replacement

If you do not have any sick leave available, or if you do not have enough available to cover the amount of time you are out of work, you can use any other leave that is available to you based on your employer’s policies. For example, you may have vacation or paid time off that you may utilize. DLSE Website

If you are in a union, you may also be eligible for other kinds of compensation. You should check your union’s website, and/or with your union representative.

Discrimination & Retaliation

The question of what will happen if your employer discriminates against you or retaliates against you for having COVID-19 does not have a clear answer. Under California law, an employer cannot discriminate against you because you have, or the employer perceives you as having any physical disability, mental disability, and/or medical condition. However, the Fair Employment and Housing Act does not cover “mild” conditions that have little or no residual effect- including things like colds, seasonal flu, and minor or nonchronic gastrointestinal disorders. Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, and the impact is different for different people, whether or not it will be considered a disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act will likely depend on how the virus impacts you.

Because this virus originated in China, we have heard some reports of discrimination against people based on their national origin, race, and ethnicity. Discrimination on these bases is prohibited by both California and federal law. If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your national origin, race, and/or ethnicity, contact our office so we can help evaluate any clams you may have.

It is illegal for an employer to interfere with any eligible employee’s right to take leave under the California Family Rights Act or discriminating or retaliating against an employee for taking a leave. If you are eligible for leave, and are discouraged or prohibited from taking it, and/or if you are retaliated against after taking leave, please call our office so we can discuss any claims you may have.

The state of California, as well as cities and counties, are continuing to put out updated information and recommendations so be sure to check the California and local authorities for updates. Other resources you may wish to consult are: