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Your Paid Leave Rights During the COVID-19 Pandemic

written by Daniel Bryant

A woman helps her daughter put on a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s been a little over a year since the initial confirmation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Since that time, millions of workers have been impacted. Regardless of where you stand in the midst of the pandemic, it is possible that your rights as an employee have been violated. If that is the case, you should contact Bryant Legal, LLC immediately in the event you believe you have been discriminated against for having to seek medical leave due to COVID-19 to quarantine, recover, or even caretaker duties for your child or a loved one due to caretaker duties as more fully outlined below..

Can I take paid sick leave if I get COVID-19?

To provide context, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 1, 2020, the Secretary of Labor promulgated temporary regulations to implement emergency medical leave under Title I of the FMLA and emergency paid sick leave to assist working families facing public health emergencies arising out of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19” or “Coronavirus”) global pandemic. The paid sick leave was created by a time-limited statutory authority established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), of which contains two subsets: (1) the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”) and the (2) Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”), for the time period of April 2, 2020 through December 31, 2020. The FFCRA is remedial legislation that expanded the protections under 29 U.S.C. § 2617 of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., (“FMLA”) and requires covered employers to provide employees with paid sick leave, expanded family and medical leave, and job protection for specified reasons related to qualifying reasons related to COVID-19.

Under the FFCRA leave requirements, businesses with less than 500 employees were required to provide 2 weeks of paid leave at 100% of your typical pay, capped at $511 per day. 

While the FFCRA initial coverage period expired on December 31, 2020, it was extended by the American Rescue Act Plan of 2021 (the “Act”) until September 30, 2021. In order to promote vaccination and testing, the Act, which is effective as of April 1, 2021, added two additional reasons that allow employees to qualify for FFCRA leave, effective April 1, 2021, if their employer opts in:

  1. FFCRA leave is available for employees who are unable to work because they are obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine, or are recovering from any illness, injury or condition related to such vaccine (side effects): and
  2. FFCRA leave is available for employees who are unable to work because they are seeking or waiting for the results of a diagnostic test or awaiting a medical diagnosis. 

The American Rescue Act Plan of 2021 also extended the FFCRA in two other important ways:

  1. The Act increased the number of weeks that an employee can seek paid family leave under the FFCRA from ten (10) weeks to twelve (12) weeks.  Thus, an employee now has 14 weeks of paid leave available, if he or she qualifies: two weeks of sick leave and twelve weeks of family leave. 
  2. The Act also resets employees’ FFCRA sick leave rights to zero on April 1, 2021.  Therefore, if employees took FFCRA sick leave prior to April 1, 2021, that does not count against their future right to leave right.

As such, if you were denied leave or discriminated against at any point due to one or more COVID-related reasons, whether that be under the original FFCRA or the recently amended version (effective April 1, 2021), you may still have a legal case. 

Can I be fired for missing work to care for a family member who got COVID-19?

FFCRA applied to employees who had to go on leave to care for sick family members, and if you were denied paid sick leave or were fired for going on leave, it’s worth contacting a lawyer to see if anything can be done.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees who work for private employers (that have at least 50 employees), government agencies, and elementary and secondary schools are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Provided you have worked for your employer for at least 12 consecutive months and have given notice about medical leave before you start your leave or as soon as you can in emergency situations, you should be allowed to take leave without losing your job. 

If you experience retaliation after exercising your FMLA rights, it may be grounds for a lawsuit. Retaliation can be a complex issue and depends on the specific facts of each scenario, so be sure to contact a lawyer to determine whether or not your case is one that can be brought forward.

Can I lose my job for missing work because I had to watch my children?

One of the many effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had is that children are attending school from home, leaving parents to tend to their children’s needs. In some cases, many parents have had to take extra time off of work or leave.

FFCRA expanded leave for parents to care for their children in the event their child care provider was unable to do so, or if their schools were closed

If you were fired for taking paid leave through FFCRA, reach out to an employment law firm immediately and ask to speak to an attorney.

What can I do if my employer fired me for taking leave for COVID-related reasons?

If you believe your employer violated your rights by firing you for taking time off due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or caring for your children or a loved one, contact Bryant Legal, LLC today. Our attorneys are here to support you during this difficult time and will fight for your employment rights.