One other option to explore in the event that you become sick with COVID or another illness during the pandemic is known as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. It mandates that employers enable employees to take unpaid leave under very specific circumstances. If you have recently been diagnosed with the coronavirus and need additional time off, it will not be paid under FMLA, and the FMLA does not require your employer to return you to the exact job that you had prior to taking leave. However, if you apply for FMLA and are awarded it, you must be allowed to return to a similar position with similar hours, duties, and pay.
This is because the FMLA has very specific protections in place prohibiting employers from restraining, interfering with, or denying your right to take leave. Even if your employer is annoyed with your request for FMLA leave or finds fault with your work shortly after you request it, you may also have grounds for a separate legal matter regarding their illegal retaliation against you in violation of FMLA. FMLA does not apply to each and every employer, so you should always do research first to find out whether or not your employer is covered by it. Certain states may even have statutes that extend even greater protections to you. FMLA only applies to those employers who have 50 or more employees, so bear in mind that a small company is likely not covered by this. Furthermore, you have to have been employed by your current employer for a minimum of 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours or more over that period. If you and your employer are both covered under FMLA and you seek to take leave because of the coronavirus, you are eligible to take as long as 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work over a 12-month period for any purposes: to care for a new baby, newly adopted child, the birth of your child, to care for your family member with a serious health condition, or to care for your own serious health condition.
A serious medical condition is one that requires continuing treatment by a health care provider or an overnight stay in an inpatient medical facility. Continuing treatment also has a very specific definition, so make sure that you evaluate this in deciding whether or not you are eligible to take FMLA leave. Unfortunately, this means that it is technically possible for some companies to fire employees who legitimately attempt to take work off because they are sick and may not want to infect others or may simply need the time to recover. Unfortunately, the legal protections for employees are limited and unclear in the United States, but you may have grounds to begin a suit against your employer if you can show that they illegally retaliated against you or illegally acted against you in some other way. This presents some of the answers to the question, “Can you be fired for being sick during COVID?”
There are some difficult bosses out there, and it is important to know your rights even before you get sick so that you are in a good position to advocate for yourself if you do get COVID 19. Beyond FMLA, over 30 states have their own laws requiring companies to provide unpaid or paid family and medical leave. And two of those states, New Jersey and Georgia, recently enacted medical leave laws as a result of the pandemic.
The Department of Labor discovered that 75% of private industry workers had access to paid sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic, and 45% of part-time employees did, whereas 86% of full-time employees did. Emergency legislation was passed early on in the pandemic that gave many workers access to paid sick leave, but that law expired at the conclusion of 2020. The federal government also gave tax credits to small companies to pay workers for sick leave, but those expired at the end of September 2021.
Always read through your employee handbook and understand the specific laws that could impact you as an employee. This will help you to determine whether or not your employer has acted illegally and whether or not you have grounds to take the next step to protect your interests. A supportive and experienced employment attorney is strongly recommended if you find yourself in the position of discovering that you have grounds for a legal case against your employer. Having the support of a knowledgeable attorney is instrumental in protecting your rights and helping you prepare for any legal case that may follow.
If you think that you have been wrongfully targeted by your employer due to a sickness or that they have violated your rights under FMLA, it is critical that you speak with a lawyer as soon as possible about your next steps. An attorney can review the facts in your case to give you a more personalized perspective on whether or not you have a legal claim to pursue. It can be a serious matter to allege that your employer violated FMLA or broke another law related to employee rights, so you need to know that you are working with a lawyer who has a deep understanding of these issues.