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Stay-at-Home Work and Providing for Paid Leave

According to major news outlets, 90% of Americans are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health emergency. Apart from orders to stay home, many are unable to go to work due to voluntarily quarantining because of travel, suspected exposure to COVID-19, having to care for children home from school, and having to care for a family member with COVID-19. Everyone at home and not at work or everyone at home unable to telecommute (get work done at home) is concerned with the major issue of how to (a) get paid for that time missed from work and (b) how to keep your job despite being at home regardless of the reason. Perfect time for a primer on ways to get paid while not at work, and ways to keep your job when unable to work.  Terms like “sick leave”, “PTO”, “comp time”, “FMLA”, “vacation”, are heard all the time but what is the difference?

Sick leave is provided by some employers after you work for some minimum period and enables you to be paid when unable to work because of a personal illness or injury. In the United States, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave. There are states that require sick leave and recently cities in my state, Texas, have attempted to pass ordinances requiring businesses to provide sick leave despite no state or federal laws with that requirement.

PTO (paid time off) is generally any time an employee is paid while away from work. It is basically any paid leave. Many employers no longer offer sick leave and vacation time off, and instead offer PTO which is broader than vacation leave. Vacation leave is a type of PTO, but PTO may not necessarily be vacation; for example, non-vacation PTO may include pregnancy leave, disability leave, jury duty, holiday pay, or sick leave.

CTO (compensatory time) is offered by employers in lieu of paying overtime. CTO is the paid time off given to an employee instead of overtime pay ($).

Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). This is trickier but this is leave you can take (unpaid) for medical and family reasons and have your health insurance continued through your employer while on leave as if you were still at work. Most importantly you cannot lose your job due to taking time off as long as you, and your employer, meet all the conditions. If you have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over that period, and your employer has at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of each other you can take this type of leave and not lose your job. The law provides you should be able to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

On March 18, 2020 in response to COVID 19, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed in Washington, D.C., and it requires employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and emergency medical leave (FMLA) for specified reasons:

  • subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order.
  • being advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • caring for an individual subject to a quarantine or isolation order.
  • caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to coronavirus-related reasons.
  • experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (The agency has not specified any other substantially similar condition yet.)

Employers can receive tax credits to offset the costs of providing this paid leave. The new federal law gives up to three months of paid family and medical leave, equivalent to not less than two-thirds of the employee’s pay. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, announced a temporary rule issuing regulations effective April 1st. Employees, employers, and attorneys are all struggling to understand.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.

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