FAST FACTS FOR WORKERS: CORONAVIRUS

Below are some of our attorneys' general guidelines on workplace issues related to COVID-19. As always, if you have specific questions, please contact us.

  • Short Term Disability: In order for many short-term disability policies to apply, you will likely have to have symptoms and test positive for coronavirus. In order to be eligible for disability benefits you have to not be able to perform the essential duties of your job due to the non-work-related illness or injury. Additionally, many policies have a waiting period before the benefits kick in.
  • FMLA: FMLA provides for 12 weeks of job protection for employees for specified family and medical reasons. COVID-19 would qualify as a serious medical condition, and an employee can also use the leave (if eligible and approved) to care for a qualifying family member with COVID-19). The benefits are available to eligible employees of covered employers, as defined below.
    • Covered Employer: Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer; Public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.
    • Eligible Employee: Works for a covered employer; Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months; Has at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave*; and Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. See Department of Labor Fact Sheet #28.
    • Employees should reach out to their HR department or an attorney about specific requirements relating to FMLA. An employee who refuses to go to their workplace out of fear of contracting COVID-19 would not likely qualify for FMLA leave without at least providing medical documentation showing absence from work is medically advised due to a health condition.
  • PTO: Generally speaking, whether quarantined or not, paid time off benefits will be able to be used as paid sick leave.
  • Unemployment: The Department of Labor announced new guidance for flexibility to unemployment insurance for American affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment benefits will be allowed when:
    • (1) An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work; (2) An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and (3) An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member. In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.
    • Resources and updates from Iowa Workforce Development can be found here: https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/updates-and-resources-about-covid-19
  • ADA Accommodations: Under the ADA. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, those who have worked with the employee will be informed but confidentiality will be maintained. Overall, ADA rules still apply but employees with disabilities that put them at high risk can request a reasonable accommodation such as working remotely. If you were previously receiving an accommodation, the ADA must continue such.
  • Workers' Compensation: Under most scenarios, COVID-19 will not be found to be a compensable work-related condition absent a showing an actual workplace exposure and contraction of the virus at work. The most likely scenarios for that will be healthcare providers and first responders. These workers will have a much clearer, greater likelihood of contracting the disease as a result of their job. Again, anyone looking to make a workers' compensation claim relating to COVID-19 will have to be able to document, or at least show a likely work-related exposure. The claim would also look at whether the employee would have been exposed to the virus absent their employment, as the employee still bears the burden of proving an injury arising out of and in the course of employment. If a worker does contract COVID-19 from his or her work, potential benefits include not only testing and medical care, but monetary benefits for any temporary disability/healing period and any permanent disability or death benefits.
  • Discrimination/Wrongful Termination: If an employer engages in illegal discrimination related to COVID-19 in the form of disability discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, ethic/national origin discrimination, etc., or retaliates against an employee form seeking out benefits or protections provided in public policies like the workers' compensation act or FMLA/ADA, such retaliation or discrimination is likely illegal.

**Individual employers can implement their own policies or require employees to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the above outlined information could potentially change in relation to the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act" (H.R.6201).