10 Things You Should Know about Coronavirus Paid Sick and Family Leave Rights

By: Emma Williamson

For the first time, Congress granted millions of workers nationwide a right to federal emergency paid sick and family leave by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in March. The new benefits help both workers and businesses in taking or offering paid leave. However, recent polling indicates that Americans are largely unaware of these rights – and a staggering amount aren’t using them. As reported by The New York Times, nearly half of Americans have heard “very little or nothing” about the new emergency paid leave benefit. Additionally, employers are largely unaware of these benefits: just 28 percent of businesses eligible to be reimbursed for providing emergency paid leave are taking advantage. 

Ensuring workers and businesses alike know about these rights, and that employees have the chance to use them, is a public health issue. Moreover, it is an issue of racial and gender equity. People of color, low-income workers, women, and people intersecting in those identities are most likely to be in essential roles. People in essential roles with jobs paying low wages are more likely to be directly exposed to coronavirus. Yet they are least likely to have pre-existing workplace policies or protective equipment that help to slow or reduce its spread.  

As many states begin reopening, people headed back to work and those who remain on the frontlines must be aware of their rights to paid leave. Here are 10 key points to know: 

1. Millions of workers now have an entirely new legal right to paid sick leave and paid family leave to take care of children. 

2. Workers can get up to 80 hours of paid sick leave. Full-time workers can take up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-19-related reasons. This covers people who need to get tested or are recovering from the virus. It also covers workers who are caring for an individual, self-isolating due to a health provider’s recommendation, or providing care for their child whose school or place of care may be closed.  

3. Working parents can get up to 12 weeks of paid leave for pandemic child care needs. People who have been employed for 30 days can also take emergency paid family leave for up to 12 weeks. This leave is only if their child’s school or child care is unavailable. The first 10 days of emergency paid family leave is unpaid. However, employees may use their emergency paid sick leave rights or accrued time to cover that period.  

4. You request leave from your employer. Workers can’t be denied leave if they are eligible and can’t be forced to use existing accrued leave.  

5. Part-time workers are covered. Part-time workers can take leave for the average of what they would work during a two-week period. People working irregular schedules may be paid emergency family leave based on the average number of hours worked within the six-month period prior to taking emergency leave.  

6. Gig workers are covered. The new paid sick leave provisions cover self-employed workers through tax credits. Workers may use the tax credit after April 1 through December 31 when filing their 2020 taxes next year. For quicker financial relief, people who are self-employed can also estimate this tax credit into their quarterly taxes.  

7. There is no accrual process. Unlike other forms of paid sick leave, which build over time, there is no accrual process for this emergency benefit. Workers have immediate access to all their paid leave through December 31.   

8. Your state or locality may grant you additional paid sick leave. Many states and localities have stepped up to provide more comprehensive paid leave during the pandemic. For more information on state and local guidance, please refer to CLASP’s Amended and New State and Local Laws and Guidance on Paid Sick Days in Response to COVID-19 fact sheet.   

9. Big businesses are exempt, and some health companies may opt out of these provisions. People working at companies with over 500 employees are unfortunately exempt. However, employees may be covered under new or expanded provisions and laws that states and localities have passed to fill these gaps. For example, California’s executive order on paid sick days covers food supply chain workers in companies with over 500 employees.  

10. You can appeal if you’re wrongfully denied. In addition to workers and employers being unaware of these rights, employees are likely being wrongly denied these benefits. Workers can appeal their leave denial directly through the U.S. Department of Labor. For additional resources, see A Better Balance’s free legal hotline and Paid Leave for All’s compiled worker resources.  

The pandemic has clearly illustrated paid leave for all is imperative to ensuring the health and safety of all communities. Millions of workers continue to risk exposure to COVID-19. The paid leave provisions in the FFCRA are crucial to protecting the health and economic wellbeing of thousands of frontline workers who continue to be exposed to coronavirus. With even more people heading back to work, it is all the more urgent that they know their rights – and that advocates call for a more comprehensive and permanent solution that protects all workers.