These are very uncertain times and unfortunately, there are more questions than answers when it comes to Covid-19 (aka coronavirus). With government restrictions on our daily activities, some businesses are simply unable to stay open or conduct business as usual. This has varying effects on their employees. In an effort to stay afloat, businesses are being faced with cutting hours, laying off employees, and even closing their doors altogether. Some businesses lend themselves to teleworking but others require on site services. One of the most common questions I get is what relief is available for workers who are losing pay. If you are an employee affected by partial or total layoffs, you have options.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is a federal bill that applies to many workers throughout the nation, including California. Although the bill has already been enacted, it will only take effect on April 1, 2020 and apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. However, employees who have already been subjected to a reduction in hours, may approach their employer and submit a request an early start to the FFCRA benefits. The employers will still be receiving the tax benefits if they implement early. Please note that employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from eligibility.
The FFCRA provides two main benefits for employees of private employers with fewer than 500 employees, who cannot work because they are affected by Covid-19: emergency family and medical leave act expansion and emergency paid sick leave. These provisions also apply to employees of public agencies regardless of the number of employees it employs.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion
The extended family medical leave act coverage provides you with paid job protected leave if you need leave to care for your son or daughter under 18 years of age if the school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to a public health emergency. To be eligible, you must have worked at least 30 days for the employer. The first 10 days you take off are unpaid but your employer must pay you for additional days up to 10 weeks, at least 2/3 of your regular rate of pay up to $200 per day and $10,000 over the term of the leave. An employer must pay an employee for hours the employee would have been normally scheduled to work even if that is more than 40 hours in a week. This can be supplemented with other paid leave that you have available and may be used intermittently while teleworking. Your employer must continue your existing health care coverage during the leave.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave
The emergency paid sick leave will be available in addition to your standard benefits. For full time workers, you are eligible for 80 hours of paid sick leave. Part time workers are eligible for a number of hours equal to the number of hours that such employee works, on average, over a 2-week period. i.e. 32 hours per week equals 64 hours. This sick leave is banked separately and currently expires when the FFCRA sunsets on December 31, 2020.
You are eligible if you meet any of the following conditions:
- You are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to Covid-19;
- You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
- You are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 and seeking medical diagnosis;
- You are caring for someone subject to quarantine or has been advised to self-quarantine;
- You are caring for children because schools closed due to Covid-19; or
- You are experiencing ‘a substantially similar condition.”
If you are eligible for paid sick leave under (1), (2), or (3) above, your employer must provide you paid leave at your regular rate of pay up to $511/day and $5,111 in the aggregate. If you are caring for someone else under (4), (5), or (6) above, your employer must provide you paid leave at your regular rate of pay up to $200/day and $2,000 in the aggregate. You are entitled to use this emergency paid sick leave prior to using any other leave you have accrued. You may only use it intermittently while teleworking if your leave is taken due to a school closure. As with the expanded family and medical leave, your employer must continue your existing health care coverage during the leave.
If your employer closes your work-site before April 1, 2020, you are not entitled to paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. However, if your employer sends you home and stops paying you because it does not have work for you to do, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. If your employer closes your work-site or furloughs you on or after April 1, 2020 but before you actually go out on leave, you are not entitled to paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. Similarly, if your employer closes while you are taking either leave, you must be paid for the sick leave or expanded family and medical leave you took to date but will lose the benefits going forward. In both of these instances, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance.
California Wage Replacement Options
In addition to the FFCRA benefits, you may be eligible for one or more of California’s wage replacement options. Some of these benefits may be used simultaneously while others may be used consecutively.
- Paid Sick Leave Act
- May be used if you or a family member for whom you care must be quarantined
- Leave accrual depends on state and local laws as well as your employer’s specific sick leave policy
- Paid Family Leave
- If you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with Covid-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a claim.
- Up to six weeks of leave available (8 weeks as of July 1, 2020)
- 60-70% of wages ranging from $50-$1300/week
- Unemployment Insurance
- If you have been laid off or had your hours substantially reduced due to Covid-19 because of a shelter in place order or lack of work, you can file a claim for partial wage replacement benefits.
- If you are unable to work because your child’s school is closed and you have no other care options enabling you to continue working remotely, you can also file a claim.
- If you are temporarily unemployed due to Covid-19 and expected to return to work with your employer within a few weeks, you are not required to actively seek work each week. However, you must remain able, available and ready to work during your unemployment for each week of benefits you claim
- Benefits up to 26 weeks (39 weeks with Covid-19 Stimulus Package)
- Benefits range from $40-$450/week
- Waiting period currently waived
- You cannot collect UI and SDI (below) simultaneously but you may be able to obtain them consecutively
- Unavailable for undocumented workers
- State Disability Insurance
- If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to Covid-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a claim
- Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.
- Benefits available for 52 weeks
- Workers’ Compensation
- If you believe you have become infected at your workplace, you can file a claim with your employer.
- Benefits may include temporary disability, permanent disability and payment of medical expenses
- Federal Employees’ Compensation Act benefits are available for federal workers but not for mere exposure to Covid-19. This program does not compensate federal workers for time lost due to quarantine.
[Proposed] Covid-19 Stimulus Package (awaiting approval from the House on 3/27/20)
- Direct payments for individuals earning under $75,001/year ($150,001 per couple/year)
- $1200/person ($2400/couple)
- Direct payments for individuals earning between $75,001 and $99,000/year ($150,000 to $198,000 per couple/year)
- Stimulus check is phases out toward the upper limits
- Increases unemployment insurance benefits, adding $600 per week for up to four months on top of what beneficiaries normally receive from California. Also expands eligibility to self-employed people and independent contractors
- Requires group health plans and insurance providers to cover preventive services related to coronavirus without cost sharing
Until we reach the end of this health crisis, take precautions and take advantage of available benefits. Employees are protected from retaliation for using the benefits available to them. Please note that there are various exclusions and exemptions that apply depending on your job and the circumstances. Please consult an attorney for more specific information about these complexities as it pertains to your employment and eligibility for benefits. Stay well!