Employment News

Coronavirus Employment Rights & FMLA: New Workplace Laws Protect Employees, Offer Paid Leave


Mar 19, 2020

If you are an employee impacted by the coronavirus, it is important to have a clear understanding of your rights. Whether you are taking care of a loved one, your office has closed operations, or you have been infected with the virus, your rights to compensation, sick leave, and job protections are critical.

On March 18, 2020, Congress passed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is aimed at reducing the financial impact on employees in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. This new law will become effective on April 1, 2020, and will provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave and a paid FMLA Expansion provision. Both provisions apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and certain covered public employers, and are available under specific circumstances only. Below is brief summary of these new provisions, as well as new unemployment rights in Minnesota. Contact us for more information about your coronavirus employment rights.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide full-time employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for circumstances related to COVID-19, including self-quarantine (subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order, or per the advice of a health care provider); obtaining a medical diagnosis or care for COVID-19; providing care for a family member who has been diagnosed or is in quarantine; or caring for a child whose school or day care has closed due to coronavirus. “Full pay” compensation up to 80 hours is capped at $511 per day.

Employees are allowed to use Emergency Paid Sick Leave starting with the first day of employment. An eligible employee is entitled to use the leave before any otherwise-available paid leave provided by the employer, and the employer may not require the exhaustion of employer-provided leave before accessing the Emergency Paid Sick Leave.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for exemption because of financial hardship from the requirement of paid leave for school or daycare closing, in accordance with regulations forthcoming from the DOL. An employee of a health care provider or an emergency responder may be excluded from using Emergency Paid Sick Leave by their employer.

Paid FMLA Leave

The FMLA Expansion (Public Health Emergency Leave) adds a new category of FMLA-covered leave: leave due to “qualifying need because of a public health emergency.” A “qualifying need” is defined as: leave when an employee is unable to work, or telework, due to a need to care for a son or daughter (under 18 years of age) due to a Coronavirus pandemic-related closure of an elementary or secondary school or daycare.

Eligibility for up to 12 weeks of Public Health Emergency Leave only requires that the worker has been employed 30 calendar days, not one year as with other types of FMLA leave. Also, this leave is available even if the employee works at a site with fewer than 50 employees, unlike other FMLA leaves.

A significant difference from other FMLA-qualifying leaves is the requirement that a portion of the Public Health Emergency Leave must be paid by the employer. The first 10 days of this Public Health Emergency Leave is not paid. The employee may choose to run otherwise-available paid leave concurrent with the first 10 days of leave. After 10 days, the remainder of the leave is paid at two-thirds (2/3) of the employee’s regular rate. However, this paid leave component is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 total per employee.

Employers of healthcare workers and emergency responders can choose to exclude those employees from this leave. In addition, as with Emergency Paid Sick Leave, employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for exemption because of financial hardship as will be addressed by forthcoming regulations. Both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and the Public Health Emergency Leave are scheduled to expire December 31, 2020.

Additional information about paid sick leave rights in Minnesota can be found here

Can I seek Minnesota unemployment if I don’t meet the above federal requirements for paid leave?

Yes. On March 16, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order to ensure workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have full access to unemployment benefits. The executive order makes applicants eligible for unemployment benefits if:

  • A healthcare professional or health authority recommended or ordered them to avoid contact with others.
  • They have been ordered not to come to their workplace due to an outbreak of a communicable disease.
  • They have received notification from a school district, daycare, or other childcare provider that either classes are canceled or the applicant’s ordinary childcare is unavailable, provided that the applicant made reasonable effort to obtain other childcare and requested time off or other accommodation from the employer and no reasonable accommodation was available.

Governor Walz’s executive order waives the nonpayable or “waiting” week to ensure applicants have access to unemployment benefits as quickly as possible.

While all applicants for unemployment benefits must actively seek suitable employment, the executive order stipulates that you may look for suitable work that does not pose a risk to your health or the health of others. If you have only been laid off temporarily, you can meet work search requirements by staying in contact with your current employer. In addition, the executive order waives the ordinary five-week benefit limitation for business owners who have become unemployed as a result of COVID-19.

Contact Our Minnesota Employee Rights Attorneys

If you have questions about your coronavirus employment rights, contact the Minnesota employment lawyers at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP. You will always speak directly with an attorney. We are committed to protecting the rights of all employees.

Additional information concerning your employment rights:

Discrimination Based on Disability

Discrimination Based on Caregiver Status

Discrimination Based on Race

Retaliation