With New York’s status as an economic engine and a hub of over 8 million people, it’s quite shocking to see everything heading towards a possible standstill. On Tuesday, Central Park was almost empty and you can blame that on the public gathering restrictions currently in full swing.
With the spread of the dreadful coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted that there could be even further actions towards shutting down more sectors. There’s also the possibility of reaching a decision to “shelter in place”, according to him.
As of Tuesday, New York State has seen over 2,300 people test positive for COVID-19, a significant rise from the Over 800 cases recorded previously. In New York City, there are over 1,300 cases and we’ve seen an NYPD officer become infected with the virus as well. Of a total of 15 deaths in the state, 10 have occurred in New York City.
The Coronavirus Outbreak – A Concern for Workers
Do you feel the growing sense of dread about being in close proximity to strangers?
You’re not alone, especially as more coronavirus cases continue to be confirmed. Commuters are experiencing heightened concerns about how to get to work, mostly as they have to use buses, trains, and subways. People are worried about getting the virus while commuting to work.
But what can employees do? There seems to be very little chance that they could legally obtain payment from employers or even retain their jobs should they decide to skip work entirely or work remotely due to the dread of contracting the virus, COVID-19. The thing is, if you refuse to show up at work or state your concerns about coronavirus, your employer could terminate you legally. At present, working from home is not considered to be a fundamental right.
But we know that there are workplace safety laws currently in effect in the United States. The updated workplace safety rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also demand that all employers ensure that their workplace is safe and totally free of both safety and health hazards. The authorities have also advised New Yorkers to stay home except they have to be at work or complete other essential tasks.
With coronavirus cases on the rise in the US, we’ve seen companies send their employees home indefinitely. But that cannot be said for other employees that are expected to still report to work despite the outbreak. Many employees, therefore, want to know if they will have coverage should they contract the virus at work.
If that has been on your mind too, now’s the best time to discuss the Paid Sick Leave bill just recently passed into law.
The Paid Sick Leave Bill for Workers in New York
In case you haven’t heard, Governor Andrew Cuomo, in agreement with state lawmakers, has just passed an emergency Paid Sick Leave bill in New York State. Now, this bill ensures that employees who are either sick with the coronavirus or under quarantine will receive paid sick leave.
So, the state is now expanding paid sick leave to include workers under quarantine. This measure makes sure that quarantined Individuals can get access to leave, as well as disability benefits. Also, this bill guarantees that employees can benefit from paid sick leave even if it has nothing to do with the virus.
The details of the bill and what this means for NYS employees
This new bill serves to offer job protection entitlement to workers affected by the coronavirus and takes effect immediately.
Based on directives from the authorities including the State of New York, Local Board of Health, the Health Department, or any other government-authorized entity, if an employee has to be isolated or quarantined either mandatorily or for precautionary reasons due to the coronavirus, they must receive paid sick leave benefits.
Here are the directives as spelled out in the new paid sick leave bill:
- As of January 1, 2020, any employer that has 10 or lesser employees and whose net income falls below $1 million must provide unpaid sick leave (job protection) to employees until isolation/quarantine is terminated. Then, the employer must provide employees with Paid Family Leave, as well as temporary disability benefits and up to $150,000 in wage replacement for the salaries during the quarantine period.
- As of January 1, 2020, any employer that has 10 or lesser employees and whose net income exceeds $1 million must provide paid sick leave to employees for at least 5 days. Thereafter, the employer must then provide unpaid sick leave until isolation/quarantine is terminated. Subsequently, the employer must also provide workers with Paid Family Leave, as well as temporary disability benefits and up to $150,000 in wage replacement for the salaries during the quarantine period. (This also applies to employers that have 11-99 employees).
- As of January 1, 2020, any employer that has 100 employees (or more) is expected to provide paid sick leave for at least 14 days during the quarantine/isolation period. (This is also applicable to all public employers no matter how many employees they have).
You can still claim these benefits even if your job closes as there is no wait time. And on returning to work, your employer must restore you to your position and continue to pay you the same wages as before the quarantine or isolation.
Under what circumstances will a worker be denied paid sick leave benefits?
If an employee travels to a country that has been marked by the CDC as level 2 or 3 health risk for non-business reasons and has to be quarantined or isolated on their return, they will not be eligible for the paid sick leave. This is because the employee was not acting within the scope of their employment or at the direction of their employer, especially if they were notified about the health warnings before traveling.
These paid sick leave benefits will also not apply if a worker is considered to be asymptomatic or is not yet diagnosed and still has the physical ability to perform their job remotely or in some other ways even while under isolation or quarantine.
What does this mean for you?
First, you need to understand the difference between Disability and Family Leave.
Disability refers to the inability of a worker to fulfill or perform the regular duties and tasks of their employment because the state, department of health, local health board, or any other government-authorized entity ordered a quarantine due to coronavirus after they have exhausted their paid sick leave as stipulated by the law.
On the other hand, Family Leave applies in two ways. It’s either used in reference to any leave an employee takes from their job when under a coronavirus quarantine order or any leave taken to care for an employee’s minor, dependent child under a coronavirus quarantine order.
Under this Act, Disability and Family Leave benefits are to be paid starting from day 1 of the unpaid quarantine period. This is applicable as long as the employee’s benefits do not exceed:
$840.70 in paid family leave and $2,042.92 in disability benefits every week (a weekly total of $2,883.62).
To access these benefits, you would have to provide:
- Evidence of the need for family leave, or
- Proof of disability.
This would be in the form of a precautionary/mandatory quarantine or isolation order issued by the state, department of health, local health board, or any other government-authorized entity.
Exclusions From The Paid Sick Leave Bill
The new bill will definitely help lots of New Yorkers and also assist in checking the spread of COVID-19. But it also seems not to cover large sections of people such as immigrant workers, small businesses, and independent contractors.
Some of these persons have seen their income sources cut off while others are taking huge risks to cater for delivery and transportation needs, as well as food and healthcare services in this difficult time. But the bill doesn’t really cover them since they do not have an employer, implying that it is far from perfect at this point. That’s because without a boss, you have no one to pay your sick leave and this is something that freelancers will have to battle.
As of now, the restrictions placed on bars and restaurants that have caused them to focus on takeout and delivery will leave bartenders and servers wondering where to get their next paycheck. New Yorkers staying at home also means that business activities may have plummeted for food vendors who are mostly immigrants. Many independent contractors like delivery cyclists have now become frontline workers and have safety concerns to deal with since they lack paid sick leave and appropriate protective gear.
What to do if you get laid off due to COVID-19 closures
If you or your loved ones fear/face layoffs due to state-imposed closures of schools, gyms, theaters, and restaurants, you’re not alone. At the moment, the New York State Department of Labor is overwhelmed with calls from thousands of people wanting to know about unemployment benefits.
Below, we’ve compiled some basic legal and general advice for you –
Before the layoff
Start saving as much money if you feel the layoff might affect you. You’ll be able to cope with some of the uncertainty by having some emergency savings.
Examine your contracts/handbooks for a severance policy
Know your rights by checking your contract. Lots of employers usually have a severance policy that could include financial assistance after a layoff.
Apply for disability coverage
In the face of a layoff, consider completing a disability coverage application while working if you feel sick.
Cut down on your expenses
Reduce your spending as much as you can if your income will be affected by a layoff. You can find a cheaper place to stay and reduce how much you spend on food, as well as transportation and housing.
Consider finding work-from-home jobs
We totally support social distancing. With this culture on the rise due to the coronavirus, you’ll find stability in a job that does not require your physical presence. There are many creative job opportunities online.
After the layoff
Inquire about healthcare continuation
Did you know that some employers provide health care continuation for some time after the end of a job? This is mostly the case for people with families. Some employers provide severance payment and some form of health insurance for a period of time. If your employer does not offer such, do not be afraid to ask for it persistently.
Apply for unemployment immediately
The seven-day wait time for unemployment insurance benefits in New York State has now been waived if you’re out of work because of coronavirus quarantines or closures. You can file a claim on specific days depending on the first letter of your last name. You can get more info about filing for unemployment insurance here.
Learn new skills
While the coronavirus outbreak is definitely a cause for concern not only in the United States but around the world, the situation doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Now could be the right time for you to develop new, worthwhile skills.
Since you might be unemployed for a while and probably stuck at home, why not consider diversifying your skills? This is one of the best ways to ensure that you protect yourself for a long time to come. In the coming future, people with high-value skills will be in demand. You can focus on learning skills that can make you money online so that you no longer have to depend on in-person jobs or risk getting laid off by your boss.
You can get access to affordable online courses that teach you valuable skills like graphic design, basic accounting, digital marketing, coding, video editing, etc. The best part is that you can even take some of these courses online for free.
When Should You Consult Your Doctor Or Attorney?
At James Newman, PC., we value the health of our clients and all New Yorkers. So, we are doing our fair share in contributing to community safety by providing valuable legal and healthful information.
As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps impacting even more people and as we record more cases here in New York State, you should immediately seek professional assistance if you have concerns about this virus. Consider meeting with your health provider in any of the following events:
- If you experience flu-like symptoms like shortness of breath, fever, and cough and still feel sick after 3-4 days. You can first reach out to your doctor via telephone or text, or even through a patient portal instead of having an in-person visit.
- If you are an older adult and experience mild symptoms or chronic health conditions. Your provider will help you determine whether you actually require medical assistance.
If you have legal questions about the coronavirus, why not consult with an attorney concerning filing a work injury lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim related to the virus?
Our work injury attorneys at James Newman, PC., are waiting to discuss your case with you and can set up a free consultation.