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The U.S. currently finds itself with the greatest number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases during this time of a global pandemic. You may be sick or know someone who has suffered from this virus. As it shows no signs of slowing in the immediate future, you may be justifiably concerned about your employment and what to do if you get sick with the coronavirus and need to take sick leave, or if you need to stay at home due to a family member becoming infected.
Will you face retaliation for using sick leave or vacation leave? What can you do if your company lays you off? While the law is evolving in this area, and the entire crisis is completely new for every part of our society, here are some answers we can give you to some frequently asked questions.
Should I call in sick if I have the coronavirus?
If you feel sick in any way, even if you have not been tested for the coronavirus, you have the legal right to use your sick leave provided to you by your employer. The California Department of Public Health website has excellent information, including updates on the coronavirus. Classic symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. However, as evidence regarding this virus continues to pour in, it appears that some people have minor symptoms, no fever, congestion and sinus issues, gastrointestinal issues, loss of smell and taste, and red eyes.
Should I call in sick if my family member has coronavirus?
You have the right under the law to use sick leave to care for a sick family member.
If you are unable to return to work because you are caring for a family member who has coronavirus, you may be able to file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. This benefit may allow up to six weeks of payments to workers who need time off to care for a sick family member. Benefits are typically 60-70 percent of wages, and it is important to note that it may take some time to receive your benefits. This is primarily due to the heavy volume of claims and ever-changing regulations due to the pandemic.
Can I be fired for taking sick leave regarding the coronavirus?
If you have sick leave to use, you have the right to use it under the law.
If your employer retaliates against you, such as firing you, demoting you, or in any way negatively impacting your employment, you may have the right to file a lawsuit.
Can I file for disability if I am unable to work due to the coronavirus?
Yes. If you are unable to return to your place of employment due to either having the coronavirus, or being exposed it, you may file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim with the State of California, which provides short-term benefit payments for workers who are unable to return to work due to an illness. While every case is different, a worker can expect to receive approximately 60-70 percent of their wages.
It is also important to note that the Governor’s Executive Order waives the unpaid one-week waiting period. This means you should be able to collect disability benefits as soon as the first week you are out of work. However, due to the extreme demand for this benefit, you may experience delays as the coronavirus increases in intensity.
Can I obtain unemployment benefits if I am laid off from my job?
Most employers have the legal right to lay off employees if they simply do not have enough money or customer demand to require a large workforce. While this is unfortunate, it is likely legal for them to lay off workers during this global pandemic. If you are interested in unemployment benefits, you can visit How to Set Up a UI Online Account (DE 2338H) (PDF) to help you apply for benefits. The local America’s Job Center of California can help you with this application if you need assistance.
It is important to note that many other Americans are in the exact same situation as you are, and therefore, it may take some time for these unemployment benefit applications to be processed, and for the payments to actually reach you.
Can I be fired for reporting unsafe work conditions?
No. The Labor Code Section 6401 still is law and requires employers to provide employees with a safe working environment. Additionally, Labor Code Section 6310 prohibits employers from retaliating against any employees who report any kind of unsafe work condition. If you make the decision to file a complaint against your employer for the failure to provide safe working conditions, such as failing to provide a facial mask, hand sanitizer, or the ability to wash your hands, you are not allowed to be fired, receive a demotion or other type of retaliation.
Additionally, if you have a disability that would place you at a higher risk of substantial injury or death if you contracted COVID-19, such as a heart condition, diabetes, or cancer, and if the employer has over 5 employees, then under FEHA, the employer may need to provide you with reasonable accommodations such as allowing you to work from home.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
If you are facing harassment or retaliation due to your decision to stay home with the coronavirus, or stay at home due to contact with a known coronavirus patient, contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Firm of Omid Nosrati at 310-553-5630 or online today. We can help ensure that your legal rights are protected.
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