Infectious disease experts are estimating over 100 million Americans could be infected with the coronavirus. So the question is not if you will be infected but when. While the reports have shown many infected show no symptoms, Congress recently passed a law to help those infected continue to pay bills. It is known as the Family First Coronavirus Response Act. This sheet gives free information on steps to take if you believe you are infected or are quarantined. This article is directed towards employees. I will address the free money the government is contemplating giving citizen (infected or not) in a different article once that law passes (if ever). At the bottom of this article, I address steps to take if you believe you are infected. The steps are aimed at preventing your company from wrongfully firing you.
Did you get sick with the coronavirus or were you quarantined and couldn't work?
Under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act if you were sick or you were taking care of a family member, you may be eligible for benefits.
How do I know if I am eligible?
To be eligible for the benefit (as opposed to other benefits like unemployment), you must be diagnosed or been told by a physician or other medical provider to quarantine. In some instances, you are eligible if you are caring for a family member.
I was diagnosed or quarantined. I am eligible, but when and what will I receive?
Under section 102(a)(1)(F), you must first take 14 days of unpaid leave (which you can substitute for vacation time or any other paid time off). After that initial unpaid period, the law kicks in and your employer must pay you time off. As always, there is a catch. The employer is only required to pay two-thirds of your wage. In addition, that two-thirds payment is capped. For most employees, the cap will not apply. The law is set up so those making over $100,000 see the cap.
Can my employer fire me if I take this paid leave?
No, but the law provides a noticeable exception. Employers who meet certain exceptions can do away with your position because of the economic downturn caused by this virus. This is the same as firing you, but should the employer hire another person for your position, the employer could face stiff consequences under this Act.
How do I protect myself if I believe I have been infected?
First, alert your employer in writing that you believe you are infected. Ensure any responses are in writing. If the employer is responding orally, follow up in writing recapping the conversation. This creates documentation which you can use later (if needed).
Second, seek treatment!!! The law protects those who have been told by quarantine or otherwise diagnosed. To be eligible, you can't just stay home. Get tested.
Third, when you do seek that treatment, get an off-work slip (quarantine note) from you doctor or nurse practitioner. Don't leave the office unless you have that in hand. Make sure the document says until further notice or other indications that you will need a return to work slip.
Fourth, immediately provide that notice to your employer IN WRITING!!!! Email, fax, certified letter.
Keep in mind the current law provides for a 14 day period where you aren't going to receive the benefits so this is a good time to use vacation time or sick pay if you have those types of pay.
Disclaimer (because I am a lawyer)
This is an evolving law with benefits for small businesses (and large ones coming). The legal community is still flushing out the details of this bill. Always consult with an attorney before making any employment decisions. Subscribe to our email notifications to receive alerts on this topic as we will be following it for our clients.
When additional changes in the law occur, we will do our best to update you. Be sure to subscribe for that information