Know Your Rights: Employment in a Pandemic

Mazaheri LawThe “new normal” is here. COVID-19 is not going anywhere, yet we are back to work with “business as usual” – even if it’s anything but. We are navigating uncharted territory and sifting through a new set of rules and rights in the workplace.

As a mom of four, my greatest concerns during these uncertain times are keeping myself and my family safe, providing for them, and being safe at work. For some, that may feel like an impossible task. With a lot of misinformation out there, you should know your rights at work today in the event that you have employment issues affected by COVID-19.

On April 1st, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) went into effect in response to the rising rates of Covid-19.  This new act may apply to you and give you additional employment rights if you are an employee of a private employer with less than 500 employees, a public employee, or self-employed. If you are a qualifying employee, you are entitled to:

  • up to 2 weeks of full or partial pay under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act or
  • up to 12 weeks of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefit.

Q: Who and what does FFCRA protect?

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act under the FCCRA entitles you to get paid while taking sick leave, depending on why you are not able to work.  To be clear, this is paid sick leave aside from Paid Time Off you may have already accrued at work. If you are in a situation where you are unable to work or telework because:

  • You are quarantined,
  • You are advised to self-quarantine by a healthcare profession, or
  • You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis

Then you are entitled to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at your regular rate of pay, capped at $511/day.

If, on the other hand, you are unable to work because:

  • You need to care for an individual subject to quarantine
  • You need to care for your child whose school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19, or
  • If you are experiencing substantially similar conditions to COVID-19 symptoms

You are then entitled to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at 2/3rds your regular rate of pay, capped at $200/day.

Caveat: Employers with 50 or less employees may be exempt to the childcare closure portion of this act under the small business exception if the business would be subject to “extreme financial hardship.”

Extended Emergency FMLA. An additional benefit granted by the act is an Emergency FMLA given if you need to care for your child whose school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19 (a strong possibility in the fall) and do not have the possibility to work or telework while doing so. This extends the 10 days of Emergency Paid Sick leave or PTO, and then allows up to 10 weeks of paid FMLA leave at 2/3rds your regular rate of pay capped at $200/day for a total of 12 weeks of leave benefit.

To use your benefits, you must inform your employer as soon as practically reasonable that you will be using your paid leave under the FFCRA. This can be done orally in person and you must provide sufficient information in writing for your employer to determine whether the requested leave is covered by FFCRA. Your employer may require continual notice to continue receiving benefits.

Your employer cannot fire you, retaliate against you, or discriminate against you for using your benefits. Doing so is a violation of the FFCRA and may be grounds for a lawsuit. Your employer also cannot require COVID-19 antibody testing for you to return to work.  However, they may still require COVID-19 testing if the testing is job-related and consistent with business necessity. When you return to work, you are entitled to have the same position as you did before your leave or a position equivalent to it, subject to some exceptions.

Q: I have a compromised immune system. Must I return to work?

Immunocompromised employees have rights – and if they feel they may be in danger or susceptible – they must ask for an accommodation under the ADA. This includes employees that may be pregnant and employees with any other disability recognized by the ADA. Upon requesting an accommodation, your employer must go through an interactive process to ask about ADA recognized disability and to find a reasonable accommodation. In going through the interactive process, employers determine if your essential job functions can be reasonably accommodated so that you may continue to work. Reasonable accommodations may include teleworking, providing masks and other PPE, putting up plastic barriers, and providing the same accommodations that you may have at work.

During these difficult times, we must learn how we can best equip ourselves to care for our families in ways we never could have planned for. At Mazaheri law, we are here to make sure your rights are protected and to help you assert your claim if needed. Our firm has over a decade of experience in handling, settling, and trying employment law cases. If your assertion of your protections has cost you your job, we can help you seek justice. We can guide you through the process and help you be able to take care of your family. If you believe your protections were not granted, contact us at 405-414-2222 to schedule an appointment, and we will discuss your options. Stay safe moms, and let’s overcome these new challenges together.

Stay tuned for our next Zoom conference addressing Illness at Work: Employee and Employer duties and follow our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter page for regular employment law updates related to COVID-19. 

Katherine Mazaheri-Franze is an Oklahoma City “law mom” of 4 children of a blended, multiracial, and multilingual family.  Her children are elementary school age 5 year old boy/girl twins, a 7 year old 2nd grader, and a step daughter currently attending OU.

During the day, she works full time as founder and Managing Attorney of the Mazaheri Law Firm and at night she’s an insta-pot home chef, boogie-monster eradicator, and trying to stay awake long enough to occasionally be the tooth fairy.

In having a heart for social justice, she has a passion for handling litigation involving claims of wrongful discharge, sexual harassment/assault, employment discrimination (based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, and disability), retaliation, as well as disputes involving wage and hour matters, medical leave, confidentiality and non-compete agreements, employee handbook and company policy violations and breaches of employment agreements.  As the Founder and Managing Attorney of the Mazaheri Law Firm she is proud of leading an all-female team of attorneys who for over a decade has gained a powerful reputation for taking on cases that attack various social injustices leading to extensive recoveries for clients with compassion and integrity.

Since the pandemic began, Katherine has done several online public service seminars including: Employment Law Q&A, Employment Guidance during the Coronavirus Pandemic, and Employment Law Q&A: Back to Work Edition. Mazaheri Law Firm’s next seminar addressing Illness in the Workplace during a Pandemic will be at 11:30 am on July 22, 2020.

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