Coronavirus Update: What Employees Should Know
The U.S. House of Representatives passed what is being called the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” on March 14, and the Senate is expected to take up the bill immediately. If it becomes law in its current form, the Act will provide some reassurance to working people that their financial security may not be destroyed by the coronavirus. The next several weeks will be confusing and uncertain, as employers learn their new responsibilities and employees learn of expanded protections provided by the Act. Among other things, the Act would provide for employees:
- The “Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act” would expand FMLA protection to more employees, and would cover more medical situations, including recommendations or orders by officials and doctors that an employee should stay home from work;
- After 14 days of unpaid leave, the employee would be entitled to be paid at least two-thirds of its normal rate of pay for additional time off due to illness or the illness of a family member;
- Emergency financial assistance to states for increased unemployment insurance;
- Required paid sick time (up to 80 hours for full-time employees) to employees for self-isolation because of a coronavirus diagnosis, or to obtain a diagnosis due to coronavirus-like symptoms, to comply with orders or recommendations to stay home from work, or to care for children if school has been closed or normal childcare is unavailable;
- Tax credits for employers and for certain self-employed employees.
The details will change, and the final law will have to be studied to know exactly what the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees will be. But it is clear that Congress is working rapidly to slow the spread of the virus, while at the same time trying to lessen the inevitable economic impact the coronavirus will have on workers and families. The current version of the Act has a “sunset” provision and will expire at the end of this year, 2020.
The Act could certainly be extended if the crisis goes on longer than that. For employees, here are the main takeaways to keep firmly in mind:
- Know the key symptoms of the coronavirus—a dry cough and a high fever. If you develop these symptoms, stay home from work, isolate yourself, and seek immediate medical care.
- Other symptoms can also be caused by the virus, so if you feel sick with sniffles or a cold, take precautions and contact your doctor, but you must use your judgment as to whether you must seek immediate treatment or stay home. There currently are not enough testing kits to test everyone for the coronavirus, so for the foreseeable future, only those with serious symptoms can be tested.
- Stay home if you can.
- Wash your hands often, and stay away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Be careful about touching surfaces where other people have recently been—for example, restaurant tables and chairs, bus and streetcar or train poles and seats, doorknobs and other places that are touched by others.
- If you have it, carry hand sanitizer with you to use after you’ve had to touch a public surface. Soap and warm water is still best, but sanitizer is better than nothing.
- Don’t try to be a hero, and don’t minimize the risk to yourself and others. Even though this virus tends to be worse for older people, younger and seemingly healthy people have died from it.
- You owe it to others to keep from spreading the virus, even if you aren’t worried about your own health.
As we sort through the challenges to employment presented by the coronavirus, many questions will arise about the expanded protection of employees under the new Act. If you believe you are not being treated fairly because of coronavirus-related issues, you should contact a Cincinnati or Kentucky employment lawyer to seek advice.
There are several good sources for information that you should check regularly. Here are a couple: