This post will discuss the current available unemployment benefits, disability benefits, and paid family leave due to coronavirus.  At the time of this writing there are many relief packages and legislation being passed in order to respond to the economic impact of this pandemic.  Procedures and laws may have changed.  You are encouraged to speak with an experienced attorney to learn the current state of the law.  Contact The Sterling Firm to speak with an experienced attorney.  We are here to help!

What is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus also known as COVID-19 is a virus that is spread from person to person who have been in close contact with each other (about 6 feet).  Contraction can occur through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person who coughs or sneezes. The respiratory droplets may land on mouths, noses, or possibly inhaled into the lungs. Spreading of the virus can also occur by touching a surface or object that has the virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. 

What Options Are Available If I Cannot Work Because Of The Coronavirus?

If you test positive for COVID-19, or you think you may have been exposed to the virus, you may be asked to quarantine yourself for two weeks. In California, if this occurs there are a few options.  For instance, you can file a claim for disability benefits, unemployment benefits, or apply for paid family leave.  

If you contracted the Coronavirus in the course of employment and it was caused by work conditions rather than from the general public, then you may have standing to file a workers’ compensation claim.  This would be relevant to healthcare workers, first responders, nurses and physicians. Other workers’ comp situations would be determined on a case-by-case basis.  

Also, cities have issued moratoriums on evictions for people whose wages have been affected by coronavirus-related work stoppages.   

What Medical Documents Do You Need To Get Benefits?

A requirement to qualify for any benefits is that you must be certified by a medical professional that you have contracted or have been exposed to the Coronavirus.  The medical certification must be signed by the treating physician. It must include a diagnosis and ICD-10 code. Alternatively, the treating physician can provide a statement of symptoms, the start date of the condition, its probable duration, and the physician’s license number.  This requirement can also be satisfied by a specific written order from a state or local health officer. Claims for benefits can be submitted online and then the supporting medical documentation can be submitted immediately after.         

File For Disability Benefits

If an employee gets sick or quarantined due to having or being exposed to Coronavirus, the worker may be able to file a Disability Insurance claim with the California Employment Development Department (EDD).  Most California workers are covered by the Disability Insurance program through deductions on their paychecks made by their employer labeled as the California State Disability Income (CASDI) tax. It is important to know that the disability benefits will not not cover your full salary. Benefits tend to be around 60%-70% of your wage depending on your income. Disability Insurance provides short-term benefits for workers who suffer a full or partial loss of wages as a result of an illness that is not work-related.  In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a new Executive Order that waives first week unpaid waiting period for unemployment and disability insurance. However, it still takes the EDD a few weeks to process Disability Insurance claims. The disability payments will not be immediate. It will take a few weeks before you receive any money, typically ranging from $50 to $1,300 per week. A claim for disability benefits can be made online with the EDD. If you are not eligible for disability benefits, you may apply for an Unemployment Insurance claim.      

Apply for Paid Family Leave

If you have to care for someone with the virus then you can apply for state Paid Family Leave (PFL). Benefits are similar to disability leave which is around 60%-70% depending on your income. Paid family leave can be filed with the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Paid family leave will provide short term relief benefits for workers who have to take off work to care for a family member with the virus. These benefits typically range from $50 to $1,300 per week.  It will take the EDD a few weeks to process these claims and issue payments.   

File for Unemployment

If you are laid off or losing hours due to the virus, you can file for unemployment. Reasons for unemployment may include: (1) your hours have been reduced due to the coronavirus quarantine; (2) you have been separated from your employer during the coronavirus quarantine; or (3) you are required to be quarantined by a medical professional or state or local health officer.  You may also qualify for benefits if you choose to stay home from work due to underlying health conditions and concerns about exposure to the coronavirus  

You can file a claim for unemployment benefits with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) if you have made sufficient earnings over the past 12-18 months. It will take the EDD a few weeks to process these claims and issue payments. An EDD representative may also conduct a phone interview with you.  

The EDD will inform you if you must look for additional work, such as by searching online, mailing in applications, calling for job openings, or registering to the California state’s online labor exchange system known as CalJOBS.  However, you will not be required to look for other work if you are only temporarily unemployed and intend to return to work with the same employer.  

Unemployment benefits typically range from $40 to $450 depending on your past earnings.

What If You Cannot Work Because Your Child’s School Is Closed?

School closures may force you to miss work because you need to care for your child.  You may qualify for Unemployment Insurance benefits. The elements that must be satisfied include that: (1) you have no other options to care for your child; and (2) you are unable to continue working remotely.  You may also be eligible for benefits if your employer allows you to work less than full-time in order to care for your child. These Unemployment claims are discretionary with the EDD representatives. They are determined on a case-by-case basis.  An interview will need to be scheduled with an EDD representative.   

What If My Employer Reduced My Hours?  

Many employers have cut back on hours for employees or have even shut down completely due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  If you find yourself out of work through no fault of your own, you may qualify for Unemployment benefits. You can file an Unemployment Insurance claim with the California Employment Development Department (EDD).  If your employer has only reduced your hours or temporarily stopped business during this time, you may file a claim for partial replacement benefit payments. The employee will be considered only temporarily unemployed during this time.  The worker will be expected to return to work with the same employer. Therefore, the worker must remain able and available and ready to work. During this time, the worker is not required to actively seek work during the time out of work.  The benefits typically will range from $40 to $450 per week. You can potentially receive benefit payments for up to 13 to 26 weeks.         

Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits If I Can Work Remotely From Home?

If you can work full-time from home, you will not qualify for benefits.  However, if your hours are somehow reduced through no fault of your own, then you may qualify for unemployment benefits.  

Can I Collect Disability And Unemployment Benefits At The Same Time?

You can apply for unemployment and disability benefits at the same time but you can only collect payments under one program.  The EDD will review and determine the appropriate program. 

Running Out of Sick Time?

In California, you are entitled to three (3) days of paid sick days if you miss work due to an illness.  Some cities provide for additional days of paid sick leave pursuant to local ordinance. If you are low on sick time or do not have any sick time and you have tested positive for the Coronavirus COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, you can also file for disability insurance with the state of California. 

If you are unable to secure paid leave, state law (California Family Rights Act) and federal law (Family and Medical Leave Act) provide employees who meet certain qualifications with up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave. You may be entitled to job-protected time off from work if: (1) your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite; (2) you have worked at the job for at least a year; and (3) you worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year. This means that you will have the right to return to your job after this leave period.    

Can I Refuse To Go To Work Because Of Fear Of Infection?

Employees can only refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) defines imminent danger as including a “threat of death or serious physical harm.” In regards to the Coronavirus pandemic, requiring an employee to travel to China or to work with sick patients without protective equipment would be considered an imminent danger.  However, still most work conditions in the United States do not qualify as an imminent danger for an employee to refuse to work. This is only general guidance and each situation is determined by its own facts and circumstances as it related to an imminent danger. 

In addition, there is no federal or California state law that allows employees to work remotely, or any law that even permits the right to ask to work remotely.

What If I Am Self-Employed And I Cannot Work Because Of The Coronavirus Pandemic?

If you are a business owner, self-employed, or an independent contractor, you are not offered the same protections that come with traditional employment such as paid sick time and unemployment benefits. There are other insurance programs that offer benefits available to self-employed independent contractors. The California Employment Development Department offers the Disability Insurance Elective Coverage.  But to be eligible to receive benefits you must have been making payments into this Elective Coverage program. This elective coverage provides Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave even though the self-employed independent contractor did not pay directly into the California State Disability Insurance fund. However, you must apply for this elective coverage and must have this insurance coverage for at least six months before being eligible to file a claim.  

It is possible to argue that you were misclassified as an independent contractor instead of an employee so that you may qualify for benefits.  

Companies like Uber and Lyft have vowed to compensate drivers who test positive for COVID-19 or if they are asked by the public health to quarantine themselves for 14 days. 

What If My Business Is Forced To Reduce My Employees’ Work Hours Because Of The Coronavirus?        

The coronavirus has severely impacted the economy.  You may be facing a slowdown in business. If you are a business owner and you have employees, you may be able to apply for benefits pursuant to the Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing Program. This provides the employer an alternative to laying off workers. Instead, the employer can keep their employees by reducing their hours.  The difference in employee wages will be offset with Unemployment Insurance benefits. The employees will receive a percentage of their weekly unemployment benefits based on the hour and wage reduction. The percentage of benefits cannot exceed 60%. If you are forced to let go of some of your workers temporarily until business picks up, those employees may file a claim for unemployment benefits.  If you are forced to shut down your business completely, you may get help through the Rapid Response program which will help your workers with filing claims for unemployment benefits and career counseling.    

Can I Ask An Employee To Leave Work If They Look Sick?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that it is not discrimination if you request an employee to leave work because they are showing symptoms of Coronavirus. In addition, sending an employee home who displays symptoms of a contagious illness does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Employers cannot arbitrarily select employees for differential treatment based on national origin. The Center for Disease Control recently warned: “Do not show prejudice to people of Asian descent, because of fear of this new [Coronavirus]. Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have COVID-19.” But if a particular worker was just in China and shows symptoms of Coronavirus that may be legitimate reasons to ask them to leave the workplace.  

Moreover, the employer may not take the temperature of an employee at work if it is not job-related because that is considered a prohibited medical examination pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  If the Coronavirus becomes more widespread in the community the ability to take an employee’s temperature may be permitted as the condition may be considered a direct threat to others.  

If an employee has tested positive for Coronavirus, all employees who worked closely with that employee should also be sent home.  It is important to not identify the infected employee so as to not violate confidentiality and privacy laws.

CORONAVIRUS LEGAL HELP

Contact The Sterling Firm for more information or legal assistance.  Justin Sterling, Esq. is an experienced attorney who is dedicated to helping his community through this difficult time.  Together we can overcome this pandemic.  May God Bless.