Disclaimer: Please note that this site, this email, and our roundtable are being presented as pro-bono short-term legal services without expectation by either the recipient of this email or HKM that HKM will provide continuing representation in the matter. HKM will maintain as confidential the information learned from and about the recipient of this email. HKM has no ongoing obligations to the recipient of this email after sending this email: an ongoing relationship between HKM and the recipient of this email can and will only be created with a written engagement letter signed by both HKM and the client. HKM does not have lawyers admitted in every jurisdiction. If individuals who have consulted with HKM would like to form an ongoing or future client-lawyer relationship, and HKM does not have a lawyer admitted in that jurisdiction, HKM will secure local counsel and expect to be admitted pro hac vice in any potential litigation.
Please note as well that the selection of an attorney is an important matter that should not be based solely on advertising materials. If you have specific questions, we ask that you contact a lawyer specifically. Further, please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and the subject matter discussed in this email may change on a daily basis. Please contact an attorney for timely, updated advice.
HKM Employment Attorneys represents individuals and employees nationwide in all facets of employment litigation, counseling, and advice. In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, we are providing this resource, free of charge, to assist employees with common questions and concerns with issues surrounding Coronavirus and Covid-19.
If you have a question that is not answered on this page, please call the Pittsburgh Coronavirus Hotline at 412-534-3896 or email email@example.com with your question. In addition, you can leave your comment in the form below. Although we cannot promise to answer every question due to high demand, we will endeavor to answer your question and post it (without your name) and the answer here.
This resource page will be updated frequently, and we encourage you to check it often.
Further, we will be holding a free online roundtable to discuss some of the issues. This roundtable will take place on April 7, 2020 at 1 PM EST. If you are interested in attending this roundtable, please enter your information and any questions to receive the conference call number and passcode for the roundtable. In addition, if you have any questions that you want answered at the roundtable, please list the question below.
What does the coronavirus stimulus bill do?
The stimulus bill, which was signed on March 27, does four basic things:
- The bill provides money directly to many individuals;
- The bill expands unemployment benefits;
- The bill provides additional relief for student loan debt; and
- The bill provides an avenue for small businesses to obtain loans
Tell me more about the direct payment to individuals
Each qualifying adult will receive $1,200 and $600 for each dependent child under 16. Single adults who earned less than $75,000 will get the full $1,200. Married couples who collectively earn less than $150,000 will get the full $2,400.
If you earn (adjusted gross income) more than $75,000 for an individual, or more than $150,000 as a couple, then you will not get the entire amount. Above those income figures, the payment decreases until it stops altogether for single people earning $99,000 or married people who have no children and earn $198,000. A family with two children will no longer be eligible for any payments if its income surpassed $218,000.
What year is looked at to determine how much money I get?
2019. If you haven’t prepared a tax return yet, you can use your 2018 return.
How will I get the money?
If you paid your taxes through direct deposit, the money will get directly deposited into your account. Otherwise, you should receive a check.
What about the expansion of unemployment benefits?
The money will make it easier for individuals to get unemployment benefits, will increase the amount of benefits received, and will allow many gig workers or independent contractors to get unemployment benefits.
How much additional unemployment benefits will be provided?
The specifics are still being worked out, and there is some discretion for the states, but the idea is that each individual on unemployment will receive an additional $600 per week.
Who now is eligible for unemployment benefits?
Apart from the other reason, you now can get unemployment benefits if you are unemployed or partly unemployed, due to you have coronavirus symptoms or because you are caring for someone with coronavirus symptoms. Further, you can get unemployment benefits if you are out of work due to you having to take care of a child who is home as a result of a school closure.
Does this stimulus bill affect student loans?
For any student debt held by the federal government, you will have automatic suspension of paying any debt until September 30.
Any other places to find out more information about what the stimulus bill does?
Yes. For a more detailed explanation, we suggest you go here: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html
As an employee, are your rights changing and in flux?
Yes. Sometimes daily. That is why it is very important to check back on this website for any updates. For example, many states are in the process of providing additional protections for employees as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
What about the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act?
There is the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act, which took effect on March 15, 2020. This is a good law, but it is a little late, because employees will not start accruing sick time until March 15. Accordingly, the federal law will provide more protections for many employees than the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act.
What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”)?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) is the bill passed by the federal government to provide some relief to some employees. The Act was passed on March 18, 2020, and will take effect until April 2, 2020. This Act will expire on December 31, 2020.
What does the Families First Coronavirus Response bill do?
The Act has three main provisions relevant to all employees nationwide.
First, the Act amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The Emergency FMLA now provides that for employees of companies with less than 500 employees, employees who have been employed for at least 30 days are entitled to up to 12 weeks paid leave if they are care for a son or daughter following the closing of a school or child care and is unable to work or telework. The first ten days would not be paid. After that, employees would be paid by their employer 2/3 of their regular pay (up to $200 per day). Qualifying employees are only entitled to 12 weeks of FMLA for the entire year. For companies with less than 50 employees, the government can excuse them of the act if the paid leave “would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.” Further, employers can exclude employees who are health-care workers for first responders.
If an employee is part-time, the employee is paid based on the average number of hours the employee worked for the six months prior to taking Emergency FMLA.
Second, the Act requires companies with less than 500 employees to provide up to 80 hours of sick leave pay (up to $511 per day) to any employee who is:
- subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
- experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis;
- caring for an individual subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
- caring for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency; or
- experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
If you obtain sick leave because of reasons 1-3, you get 100% of your wages for up to 80 hours (with a maximum payment of $511 per day).
If you obtain sick leave because of reasons 4-6, you get 66% of your wages to 80 hours (with a maximum payment of $200 per day).
If an employee is part-time, then the employee is entitled to the same amount of leave as the employee works in an average two-week time period. As long as employees have worked for the company for one day, they are entitled to this sick leave if they meet the conditions described above.
Similar to the emergency FMLA, an employer can exclude from the sick paid law any health-care workers or first responders.
Third, the Act will make it easier (at least in theory) to obtain unemployment benefits if you are laid off. The Act provides a substantial amount of additional money to the states (who administer unemployment claims) for unemployment, but only if the states show that they are making it easier for applicants to obtain unemployment. For example, to receive the money, the states will need to show that the they are waiving some of the more onerous restrictions, such as work search requirements and waiting periods.
For the first two weeks of unpaid Emergency FMLA leave, can I use my accrued vacation or accrued sick leave to get paid?
Yes. If you get FMLA under the new act, the first two weeks will be unpaid. But if you have other accrued paid benefits (e.g., you have accrued vacation time), you could use those to get paid for those two weeks.
I’m an independent contractor. How will the Act affect me?
This bill will not entitle you to FMLA leave or sick leave. The bill, however, will give you some tax relief on your income tax via various tax credits.
What if my employer already has a leave policy?
If your employer has a leave policy already, the paid sick time required this new bill must be in addition to the leave policy that the employer already provides.
How is my company supposed to pay for the new provisions in the Act?
The company will get tax credits to offset sick leave and FMLA leave pay.
Can my employer retaliate against me for taking the leave to care for my child?
Can my employer retaliate against me for taking sick leave?
Again, absolutely not.
But will my job be safe if I take FMLA leave?
If you work for a company with more than 25 employees, your job should be safe. If, however, you work for a company with 25 or less employees, your job may not be safe if your position is eliminated due to the economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
What happens if I work for a company with more than 500 employees?
If you work for a company with more than 500 employees, then you are not covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). This means that you do not get the protections from the Act. This means that you have no legal right to take FMLA leave to care for a child whose school has been closed, and you may not have legal right to obtain paid sick leave if you are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.
That being said, if you believe you have coronavirus or coronavirus-like symptoms, you may be entitled to traditional FMLA (not the Emergency FMLA leave, which was part of the bill just passed into law), which gives you the right to take up to 12 weeks off unpaid leave for a covered illness. It is still an open question as to whether having COVID-19, or having symptoms, would constitute a “covered illness” under the traditional FMLA.
Do you have to go to work if you don’t want to?
Depends, and there a few options for you.
First, by state executive order, unless you are in a life-sustaining business, you cannot physical go to work. You can find the list of life-sustaining businesses, here.
Second, you should check to see if you are eligible under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) (see above). If you are, then you are able to take Emergency FMLA leave to care for a child, or you are able to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave to treat yourself for coronavirus or coronavirus-type symptoms, or to care for a family member. If any of these apply, yes, you would not have to go into work.
Third, you can see if you have accrued vacation time or sick leave provided by your employer, and see if you can use that.
Fourth, even if you are not covered by the Act, if you expect that you have Coronavirus, you may qualify for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA allows covered employees up to 180 days of unpaid leave to care for themselves or a family member in a covered illness.
What if I have Coronavirus or suspect that I have Coronavirus?
If you have coronavirus, you have a few options:
As a preliminary matter, you should not physically go into work until your time of self-quarantine has expired.
Further, you have a few additional options:
First, you should use employer-provided sick leave and/or vacation time if you have it.
Second, if you do not have employer-provided sick leave and/or vacation time, you should see if you qualify for mandatory sick leave and/or vacation. For example, if you work for a company with less than 500 employees, you are entitled, under federal law, to two weeks of paid sick leave if you have coronavirus or symptoms of coronavirus.
Third, if you cannot get paid or sick leave time, and you need to take off work for a couple weeks, you should apply for unemployment benefits, as you are likely eligible.
Are you legally entitled to sick leave?
Generally yes, if you work for a company with less than 500 employees.
That being said, many (but not all) companies with more than 500 employees provide sick leave, and I hope yours does. But if you work for an employer with more than 500 employees, mandatory sick leave is not required currently in the United States.
If my child’s school is closed, what should I do?
You should see if you qualify for Emergency FMLA under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) (see above). If you qualify, your child’s school is closed, and you cannot work due to this closure, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of Emergency FMLA leave, and 10 of weeks will be paid at 2/3 of your current pay (up to $511 per day).
If you do not qualify under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, then the company has no legal obligation to allow you to take time off of work to allow you to take care of your child.
Can you decide not to attend meetings?
Depends, and there a few options for you.
First, by Pennsylvania executive order, unless you are in a life-sustaining business, you cannot physical go to work. You can find the list of life-sustaining businesses, here.
Second, you should check to see if you are eligible under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) (see above). If you are, then you are able to take Emergency FMLA leave to care for a child, or you are able to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave to treat yourself for coronavirus or coronavirus-type symptoms, or to care for a family member. If any of these apply, yes, you could conceivably not attend a meeting if any of these reasons apply.
Third, you can see if you have accrued vacation time or sick leave provided by your employer, and see if you can use that to not attend the meeting.
Absent sick leave or vacation pay, you have no legal right to simply miss a meeting, even if the meeting may cause you to come into close contact with others. You would need to discuss with your employer what options will be available to avoid community transmission and keep everyone safe and healthy. Simply deciding not to attend meetings without giving proper notice or checking with your manager is not protected by the law.
If you are sick, do you HAVE to stay home, if you do not want to?
There is not currently a mandatory self-isolation requirement in United States. If your employer has stated that sick employees are required to stay home or work from home if they show signs of sickness, you are required to do so. If they haven’t then you are likely expected to notify them of your sickness and let them determine the proper course of action.
If an employer closes down an office because of Coronavirus, am I legally entitled to work from home?
Unfortunately, for most at-will employees, the answer is “no.”
If an employer closes down an office because of Coronavirus, does the employer have to pay me?
Unfortunately, for most at-will employees, the answer is “no” again. There may be some employees covered by a union or a collective bargaining agreement. But for most employees, if you are not working for the employer, the employer does not have to pay you.
If an employer closes down an office or business because of Coronavirus, can I use sick leave to get paid?
No, there is currently no requirement that demands this at this time.
Can an employer fire me because of the Coronavirus pandemic?
Sadly, the answer is probably “yes.” An employer cannot fire you for an illegal reason (retaliation, discrimination etc.), but firing you because of an economic downturn as a result of Coronavirus would generally not be considered illegal.
Can an employer put me on a furlough because of the Coronavirus pandemic?
Sadly, the answer is probably “yes.” An employer cannot furlough you for an illegal reason (retaliation, discrimination etc.), but putting you on a furlough because of an economic downturn as a result of Coronavirus would generally not be considered illegal.
What is the difference between a furlough and a termination?
In a furlough, you would still get employee benefits. In a termination, you would not.
Can I get unemployment benefits if I am furloughed?
I’m an independent contractor. What are my options?
Most laws only cover employees, not employers.
That being said, even if you are self-employed or an independent contractor, you may be eligible to receive unemployment assistance if: (i) you were employed with an employer within the last 12 – 18 months and the employer paid into the state’s unemployment insurance program; OR (ii) you paid into the unemployment insurance program on your own behalf while self-employed; OR (iii) you have been misclassified as an independent contractor but are actually an employee.
Finally, if the federal government designates this epidemic as a “disaster” – which it has not yet done – self-employed/independent contractors may be eligible for relief under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program. We are monitoring the federal activity on this designation and will update this FAQ if it changes.
Can my employer close down the office and require me to work from home?
Probably. As a condition of employment, the employer can require you to work in different locations, even at your home, if that is what the employer wishes to insist on.
Can my employer require me to leave work if my employer suspects that I have been exposed to COVID-19?
Can I stay home if I am feeling a little freaked out, and I don’t want to be around large groups?
Unless you are using sick leave that your employer has provided you, or sick leave that you are legally entitled to receive from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (see above to see if you and your company are covered), the answer is “no.” Absent sick leave, you have no legal right not to come into work, even though it may be the wise and prudent course of action.
If I get laid off as a result of Coronavirus, am I entitled to unemployment?
Yes, assuming you meet the other qualifications (e.g., worked for more than 6 months, worked a certain number of hours in the previous year etc.).
If I have to miss work because there is a concern that I have Coronavirus, can I get unemployment?
If I have to miss work because I am immuno-compromised, can I get unemployment benefits?
I’m an hourly-paid employee. If my employer closes down, how many hours does my employer have to pay me for?
Only for the hours that you’ve worked.
Can my employer ask me if I am experiencing COVID symptoms before letting me work at the office?
Yes. Although, if you have COVID-19, or similar symptoms, your employer must keep this information confidential from others.
Can your employer require you to take your temperature before coming into work?
Yes. Although this is considered a “medical exam” under the American with Disabilities Act, the EEOC recently issued guidelines specifically allowing your employer to take your temperature prior to you entering the workplace.
If you were sick, can your employer require you to present a doctor’s note showing that you are now healthy?
Yes. Based on recent EEOC guidelines, this is specifically allowed.
Can you take sick leave (and apply for unemployment) while you are furloughed?
Generally speaking, if you are receiving paid leave or paid sick leave, you cannot obtain both the paid sick leave and the unemployment benefits. That being said, if this is your situation, you should still apply as the requirements for unemployment are changing rapidly.
Can someone get an accommodation for someone that has a family member who is immuno-compromised?
Probably not. Although you can get an accommodation if you have a disability, there is no law allowing you to get an accommodation if a family member or friend is immune-compromised.
United States Department of Labor, COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers, March 2020, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic (last visited March 11, 2020).
United States Department of Labor, COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers, March 2020, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/pandemic (last visited March 11, 2020).
United States Department of Labor, Division of Federal Employees (DFEC) Information on FECA Coverage for Coronavirus Disease – 2019/COVID-19, https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dfec/InfoFECACoverageCoronavirus.htm (last visited March 11, 2020).
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, https://dced.pa.gov/
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, COVID-19 Business Resources, https://dced.pa.gov/resources/ (last visited March 18, 2020).
Steel Valley Authority, https://www.steelvalley.org/coronavirus (last visited March 17, 2020).
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Business Resources for Coronavirus, https://www.pachamber.org/coronavirus
Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation, Information for Pennsylvania Employees Impacted by COVID-19, https://www.uc.pa.gov/Pages/covid19.aspx