To try to keep the economy moving while the coronavirus threatens to shut everything down, “essential” workers in certain occupations are still permitted to go to work while others have to stay home. An essential worker can be defined in various career fields, from hospital workers to grocery store clerks. While all essential workers might be grateful to be able to continue to earn a living while millions of Americans are filing for unemployment, most essential workers will also admit to being frightened to go to work where they might be exposed to the coronavirus.
In acknowledgement of how many essential workers are falling ill due to coronavirus exposure, Congress recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to grant sick pay to more workers than before. Whether or not you can use benefits from FFCRA depends on various factors, though.
Key rules and exemptions in FFCRA include:
- Only employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, who have sought coronavirus testing, and who are in quarantine or isolation are covered.
- Employers with more than 500 employees do not need to expand their paid sick leave programs under this new act.
- Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may also be exempt from paid sick leave program expansions.
- Employees must regularly update their employers about their necessity for a paid sick day after using their first.
- New sick pay benefits may be provided to parents with a child who can no longer go to work due to a coronavirus-related closure.
For employees who do qualify for paid sick days under FFCRA, the benefits they receive should be up to 80 hours or 2 weeks of regular pay. Parents who cannot work due to the need to care for a child will only receive 2/3 of their regular pay, up to the 80-hour maximum.
Additional Caveats for Part-Time Employees
The FFCRA also limits how much paid sick leave a part-time employee can receive due to being exposed to the coronavirus. Rather than getting a flat 80-hour cap as a maximum, a part-time employee who is eligible under the act will only receive paid sick leave hours up to the average number of hours they are typically scheduled in a two-week time period for that employer. For example, if you work 12 hours a week at a coffee shop, then that employer would only have to grant you up to 12 hours of paid sick leave to rest and quarantine due to COVID-19.
It is not clear at this time how employers are meant to calculate a part-time employee’s two-week hourly average. Will the employer need to get the average by assessing all the weeks that employee has worked for their company? Or do only the most recent two weeks of scheduling pre-pandemic determine the average?
Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act
Some states have specific provisions in their own employment laws that provide some clarity into how paid sick leave can be used during times of illness. In Illinois, for example, the Employee Sick Leave Act allows an employee to use their own paid sick leave to stay home and care for an ill or injured family member. The amount of paid sick leave that can be used for this purpose caps at however many hours of sick pay that employee would have earned in six months. For employees who are given a flat amount at the start of the year, half of that starting amount could be approved.
The Employee Sick Leave Act does not distinguish between a full-time and a part-time worker. To this extent, its benefits can be used by either type of employee. Although, this particular act does not require employers to provide paid sick leave.
For further information about sick pay and workers’ compensation benefits available to employees throughout Illinois, you can call (618) 505-1660 and speak with a member of Sam C. Mitchell & Associates. We are sending our sincere wishes to all of our clients and community members during these unprecedented times. Our law office is still open to help people in need of legal guidance. Through video conferencing, emails, and more, we can meet new clients and complete casework remotely.