Now that COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is impacting all aspects of our lives, we are here to answer some frequent questions employees have about their rights during these challenging times.
1. Do I get paid sick leave if I need to stay home?
New laws are being passed to help workers who need to take sick leave because of the coronavirus. Many full-time employees will qualify for 80 hours of paid sick leave under federal law if they are in quarantine, isolation, or experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Part-time employees will also qualify for paid sick leave based on the number of hours they normally work. Under New York State law, many workers are now guaranteed between five and 14 days of paid sick leave, depending on the size of their employer.
If you work in New York City for a company with more than five employees, you are entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year under New York City law. If your company has less than five employees, you are entitled to unpaid sick leave. Some companies offer more paid sick days than required by law, so it is important to be aware of your employer’s policies.
2. What if people in my family are sick?
Under the new federal law, many full-time employees will be able to take 80 hours of paid leave to care for children and other family members who are subject to a quarantine or experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Employees may also be allowed up to 12 weeks of leave to take care of family members under an emergency expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and should receive partial pay during most of this leave. Many workers in New York will be able to take up to 10 weeks of paid family leave and receive disability benefits if they have to stay home to take care of a child whose school or daycare has been closed because of a quarantine or isolation order.
3. What if my employer threatens to fire me for taking leave?
Both the federal and New York State laws make it illegal for an employer to fire workers for requesting or taking sick leave to which they are entitled during the coronavirus crisis. Workers also have the right to return to their previous positions after their leave time is up. You should speak with an attorney if you believe that your employer is retaliating against you for taking leave.
4. Can my employer make me work from home?
Employers are allowed to follow guidelines and suggestions made by public health authorities during the coronavirus crisis, including sending employees home if they are showing flu-like symptoms. In New York, Governor Cuomo has ordered most business to keep 75% of their employees at home. However, keep in mind that if you have a disability, your employer should continue to provide you with a reasonable accommodation if it is needed while you work from home. Your employer is also prohibited from discriminating against you by, for example, forcing workers of only a certain race, age, or gender to stay home.
5. Do I get paid while I’m working from home?
Yes, you are entitled to be paid while working from home, whether you are paid on a salary or by the hour.
6. What if I am experiencing discrimination at work because of the coronavirus?
Both federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination at work. Recent reports about discrimination against members of Asian and Asian-American communities raise concerns that individuals of Asian descent may face discrimination at work during this crisis. You should speak with an employment attorney if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your race or national origin.
7. Do I get severance pay if I am fired during the coronavirus?
In general, you are not entitled to severance pay under federal or New York law. However, your employer may not retaliate against you by firing you for taking leave to which you are legally entitled. You may also be entitled to severance pay under your employment contract. You should contact an attorney to help you review the terms of your contract if you think that you are entitled to severance pay.
8. What else can I do if I am fired?
If you have been fired, you can explore opportunities to obtain unemployment insurance benefits. The New York Department of Labor recently announced that it is suspending its seven-day waiting period for people who are out of work due to coronavirus closures or quarantines.
9. What else can I do to take care of my family during this time?
New York State offers low cost health insurance plans for qualifying individuals and families. A special enrollment period is open through April 15 for those who need to sign up for insurance coverage.