What rights do workers have to paid leave during the pandemic?

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 7:25 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - As more people return to work and school, and cases continue to rise, questions have been raised about the rights of workers to paid leave, should a member of their households contract coronavirus.

In April, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) went into effect, providing Covid-related paid leave for employees of companies with fewer than 500 people and those working in covered public sector jobs. The law expires on December 31st.

“Now, I worry sometimes that employers have a lot more sway over their workers, and maybe, you know, unfortunately, in some cases would intimidate workers from actually exercising the right,” expressed Dr. Daniel Graff, a labor historian and professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Citing several examples, the Department of Labor website indicates the FFCRA allows employers to give a certain amount of paid time off, including if someone has Covid-19 symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis - or if you’re quarantined by a healthcare provider.

“You can’t decide it on your own,” Graff explained. “It either has to be because the state authority or local authority has deemed that you need to quarantine or the healthcare provider has instructed you to so you can’t just make the determination on your own. You might have to prove it with a medical doctor’s note or something, but you are entitled to [the paid leave].”

Dr. Mark Fox, MD, the deputy St. Joseph County Health Officer, underscores the importance of the FFCRA.

“It’s important that individuals who are confirmed cases of Covid, that they are able to isolate without financial disincentives and household members or other close contacts have financial protections so they can quarantine and not jeopardize public health,” said Fox.

If you feel your employer is not following the FFCRA, contact the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) by calling 1-866-487-9243 or visit www.dol.gov/agencies/whd where you’ll be directed to the nearest WHD office for assistance.

To file a complaint, it’s important to have the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your address and phone number
  • The name of the company where you work(ed)
  • Location of the company (which may be different from where you worked)
  • Phone number of the company
  • Manager or owners name
  • Type of work you did
  • How and when you were paid  (for instance if you were paid cash or check, every Friday)

The Department of Labor says that an employer cannot fire an employee or in any other manner discriminate against him or her for filing a complaint with WHD. All services are free and confidential, whether or not you are documented.

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