The Coronavirus and the Workplace: Leave Accommodations

As the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, employers are confronted with the possibility of increased absences in the workplace. While some absences could be due to illness itself, others may be precautionary measures to reduce any exposure. So, how are these decisions handled alongside various leave programs and other legal obligations? Let’s take a look.

Employee Leave Requirements

If an employee, or an employee’s family member, contracts COVID-19, the employee may be entitled to time off from work under federal or state leave laws. An illness like COVID-19 may qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA if it involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. This would apply equally to an employee who contracts the illness, or an FMLA-protected family member (generally parent, spouse & children) Employees could potentially be entitled to FMLA leave when taking time off for medical exams and testing to determine whether a serious health condition exists.

Many states and localities also have employee leave laws that could apply in scenarios where the employee’s family member contracts COVID-19. In New York State, Paid Family Leave (PFL) largely mirrors the Federal FMLA in terms of defining a “serious health condition” except of course, that the leave is to care for a family member (parent, spouse, child, grand parents/children and domestic partners) and not one’s own illness.  This means, should COVID-19 be diagnosed for a family member and rise to the status of a serious health condition, paid time off under PFL could be available to the employee.

Employees may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the illness during the course of their employment, such as a healthcare worker treating contagious patients. Short-term disability benefits – statutory or otherwise, will depend on the terms of the policy and the severity of the employee’s illness. Employers are encouraged to consider each absence individually and provide the appropriate paperwork for any benefit the employee may be eligible for.

Additional Absences

There may be some employees who wish to stay home from work out of fear of becoming ill. Barring any risk of contracting the disease at work, an employer’s internal leave policies will help to govern how to accommodate these requests.  Employer’s will want to consider what type of PTO might apply, or if the leave will be approved but unpaid.  As a reminder, non-exempt employees generally do not have to be paid for time they are not working, while exempt employees must be paid if they work for part of a workweek, but not if absent from work for the entire week.   A refusal to work could violate an employer’s attendance policy, but employers should consult with legal counsel prior to discipline.

Employers can require employees to stay home from work if they have signs or symptoms of a communicable disease which poses a credible threat of transmission in the workplace, or if they have traveled to high-risk geographic areas. Absent these circumstances, employers may still consider allowing employees to work remotely if possible. Keep yourself and your employees informed by monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and state and local public health department websites for information on the status of the coronavirus.

Rose & Kiernan, Inc. will continue to monitor and advise on coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on businesses and the workplace. Any further questions? The EBMG group at Rose & Kiernan can help go over any leave Accommodations for the Coronavirus.  Please contact us here or by calling (800) 242-4433.

Please note that news and events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are changing quickly. The information provided in this blog post represents where things stand on the date of publication.

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