COVID-19 AND EMPLOYMENT: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I’m not working because my employer closed or or told me not to come in due to COVID-19. What can I do?
- You can apply for unemployment compensation (UC). Pennsylvania law provides for UC benefits for all employees who are not working due to no fault of their own. It doesn't matter if your employer has said you are "laid off," "terminated," or "off the schedule." If someone other than you made the decision for you not to go to work due to coronavirus concerns, you are eligible for UC benefits.
My employer is still open, but I have a medical condition that makes me susceptible to serious complications if I catch COVID-19. Do I have any options?
- Yes. First, if it is possible for you to work from home, you should explore this possibility with your employer as a request for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and/or Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). The types of accommodation that are "reasonable" vary depending on the circumstances. Because this is a complex area of the law, you should contact an attorney to help you navigate this issue.
- If you cannot work from home, you can request medical leave. If your employer has more than 50 employees within 75 miles of your work location, you have been employed at least one year, you have worked more than 1250 hours in the past 12 months, and you have a serious health condition, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). This leave is unpaid, unless your employer requires or permits you to use PTO during FMLA leave.
- If you or your employer do not meet the requirements for FMLA leave, you can request medical leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and/or PHRA.
- Please note that being at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications simply because of your age is not enough to seek these protections, as the law does not provide for reasonable accommodations due to age.
Can my employer require me to be vaccinated?
- Generally, yes. There is no law that prevents employers from requiring vaccinations, with the possible exceptions of a legitimate medical or religious exemption. Opposing the COVID-19 vaccine on political, social, or scientific grounds is not enough. You must actually have a disability that prevents you from being vaccinated, or a sincerely-held religious belief against vaccination.
- Even if you have a medical or religious opposition to vaccination, an employer may still be able to terminate your employment if granting you an accommodation would cause an undue hardship. If you have a documented disability-related or religious opposition to a vaccine and your employer refuses to accommodate you, you should speak to an attorney about your rights.
I have no known medical conditions, but I am concerned about bringing coronavirus home and spreading it to a family member. Is there anything I can do?
- Unfortunately, having a legitimate concern about spreading COVID-19 to others who may be at risk will not entitle you to a reasonable accommodation or medical leave if you, yourself, do not have a disability or serious health condition. You may want to ask your employer about working from home or a leave of absence, but they will not be required to provide it.
My child's school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19, but my employer is still open. Will I be paid if I stay home to care for my child?
- If you work in the City of Pittsburgh, the City of Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act applies. Employers of all sizes, except federal and state employers, must follow this law. Employers with 15 or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, and employers with under 15 employees must provide up to 24 hours of paid sick leave per year. Some employers will allow this leave to accrue all at once; others may allow one hour to accrue for every 35 hours worked in the City. If you have questions about which method your employer has chosen, you should ask your employer.
- If you work in the City of Pittsburgh for an employer with over 50 employees, you may qualify for up to 80 hours of additional paid sick leave beyond what the Paid Sick Days Act provides.
- Between April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ("FFCRA") was in effect. If your employer had fewer than 500 employees, you were entitled up to twelve weeks of sick leave at 2/3 of your regular pay, capped at $200 per day, to care for a child whose school or daycare has closed. This leave accrued immediately upon starting employment. If your employer violated this law between April 1 and December 31, 2020, you may still have a claim.
I have COVID-19, or am showing symptoms, but my employer is still open. Can I stay home?
- See responses to questions above. The expiration of the FFCRA and the City of Pittsburgh ordinances also apply if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis, or have been advised to self-quarantine.
- You also may qualify for unpaidFMLA leave if your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles; you have been employed for at least one year and worked 1250 hours in the past 12 months, and your COVID-19 symptoms rise to the level of a "serious health condition" (e.g., if you are hospitalized overnight, or you are under a regimen of continuing treatment by a healthcare provider).
What happens to my employer-sponsored health insurance if I lose my job due to COVID-19?
- Unfortunately, your employer is not required to keep your health insurance past your last day of employment. However, you are entitled to continue your health insurance under COBRA for up to 18 months, if your employer has 20 or more employees, or Pennsylvania Mini-COBRA, for up to 9 months, if your employer has 2-19 employees.
- Unless you were fired for gross misconduct, employers were required to pay your COBRA premiums from April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021. The federal government would then reimburse the premium paid by the employer, meaning that continued health insurance would not cost you or your former employer anything through September 30, 2021. If your employer violated this law between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, you may still have a claim.
I believe I have been fired for opposing unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I have any rights?
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers (except state employers) to maintain a workplace that is free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm. Section 11(c) of this Act protects employees from retaliation for raising health and safety concerns. You must file a claim with OSHA within 30 days to be protected under this law. Therefore, if you believe you have been retaliated against, you should contact OSHA or an attorney right away.
I believe my employer is violating public health regulations related to COVID-19. What should I do?
- You should first talk to your employer about the violations and give them a chance to make corrections. If corrections are not made, you can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Please note that the law is currently unclear on whether such internal or external complaints are protected from retaliation. However, a strong legal argument can be made that they are.
I believe I contracted COVID-19 at work. Do I have any rights?
- If you can prove that you contracted COVID-19 at work, you may be entitled to workers' compensation. Elzer Law Firm, LLC, does not handle workers' compensation cases, but can refer you to an attorney who does.
*The above FAQ answers are intended as an overview, and are not a substitute for legal advice. Only after learning the specifics of your situation and entering into an attorney-client relationship can an attorney give you legal advice. If you believe that your rights have been violated, please contact us to discuss your issue further.