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Coronavirus and the Law: What Are Your Rights as an Employee?

Coronavirus and the Law: What Are Your Rights as an Employee?

Both California and federal law offer certain protections.

Coronavirus and the Law: What Are Your Rights as an Employee?

The United States has declared a state of emergency in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. During this time, many businesses are shutting down, and others are directing employees to work from home. All Americans have been encouraged to engage in social distancing.

Californians are rightfully concerned about the possibility of getting sick — or having a loved one come down with COVID-19. At the same time, millions of people don’t have enough savings to afford to take weeks or months off of work. Read on to learn more about your rights under California and federal law during the coronavirus pandemic. You can also check the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency website for updated information, including a chart that explains what benefits are available to workers in California.

Do You Have the Right to Work from Home?

No. Neither California nor U.S. law provides a right for employees to work from home. However, if it is possible for you to perform your work remotely, you should ask your employer if you can do so. Employers throughout California should be having conversations with their staff about the best way to keep everyone safe.

In some cases, you may be able to ask to work from home as a reasonable accommodation if you are at high risk for coronavirus because you are immunocompromised, have a respiratory issue, or have another health condition. Under federal and state law, employees with a disability may be entitled to work remotely as an accommodation. If you have questions about how to request this as an accommodation, contact a California employment law attorney.

What Happens If I Get Sick, or If I Need to Take Care of a Sick Family Member?

Under both California and federal law, employees can take leave if a serious health condition makes them unable to work. Employees can also take leave to care for family members with serious health conditions. These protections are available under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year, and the California Family Rights Act allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year. Importantly, this leave is typically unpaid — but your job will be protected if you take leave in this situation.

Does California Have Paid Sick Leave?

Yes. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees who work for 30 or more days within a year of starting a job. Employees accrue hours that can be used to be paid while they are on leave for specific reasons.

If you do not have enough sick days to cover your coronavirus leave, you may be able to file a claim for Disability Insurance through the state. This insurance provides short-term benefits of approximately 60 to 70% of your wages if you are unable to work due to an illness or injury.

The United States Congress is currently working on bills that would provide further protections, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If this bill become law, then employees who work for companies with fewer than 500 workers may be eligible for paid leave.

What If I Am an Independent Contractor?

Employers often classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees so that they don’t have to pay them benefits — including paid sick leave. Under Assembly Bill 5, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, it will be more difficult for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors. If you are a freelance or gig economy worker, consult a California employment law attorney to learn more about whether you can challenge your classification — and possibly be entitled to sick leave benefits through your employer.

Can I Get Benefits If My Workplace Closes or My Hours Are Reduced?

If you are not working or if your hours have been cut due to coronavirus, you may be able to file for unemployment benefits through California’s Employment Development Department. These benefits range from $40 to $450 per week.

At PLBSH, we are committed to helping workers — particularly during this incredibly difficult time. Our team of seasoned California employment law attorneys is ready to answer your questions and guide you through any employment law challenges that you may face during the pandemic. Contact us at (800) 435-7542 or info@plbsh.com to schedule a consultation.

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