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Changes in Employer-Employee Relations During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The economic impact of the coronavirus can be felt most acutely in and empty workplaces. The coronavirus has shifted a large portion of the American workforce into a remote and internet-based workforce. However, workplace laws are still in effect even most offices in the country are now closed.

What If an Employee or a Family Member of an Employee Has the Coronavirus?

If an employee is unable to work because they have or a family member has the coronavirus, the employer must remain in compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act and any applicable state/local sick time laws. This includes employees who have Corona-19. FMLA requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide employees with job-protected, unpaid leave for certain medical and family reasons. Employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to receive the same health coverage from their employers as they were before taking leave. Employees who are also caring for ill family members also qualify for FMLA benefits.

FMLA benefits include:

  • 12 weeks unpaid leave;
  • Medical/health benefits during the leave; and
  • Restoration of their original job when they return to work after the leave

coronavirusCan My Employer Reduce My Hours and Refuse to Pay Me for Those Reduced Hours?

This depends on your type of employment. “At-will” employees are generally the most vulnerable as employers can reduce their hours or even terminate them at a moment’s notice. Employees who have a contract with their employer or work in a profession with statutory protections may be entitled to compensation for reduced hours or even termination.

However, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act sets out general guidelines that most employers must adhere to, including:

  • Pay employees at least minimum wage;
  • Pay overtime pay for time worked over 40 hours in a workweek;
  • Adhere to child labor provisions; and
  • Maintain various records of hours, wages, and other wage items ordinarily kept in a business practice.

What If My Employer Asks Me to Work from Home?

Due to the global pandemic and national emergency, all employees may be expected to work from home until the present crisis is over.

Some states may mandate that employees work remotely. At the time this article was written, this list includes: California, New York, Illinois, Nevada, and New Jersey. This list may be modified and subject to change as the situation changes.

What If My Employer Asks Me to Come to the Office?

Some professions may be exempt from the shelter-in-place orders that states are implementing to combat the pandemic. Such exemptions include:

  • Medical Personnel
  • Law Enforcement
  • Grocery stores
  • Gas Stations
  • Parcel Delivery Services

The exact list may differ by state. All other employees are expected to stay in their residence if their state has issued a shelter-in-place order.

However, even if a state has not issued a shelter-in-place order, employers may be expected to grant sick leave during this time. All employees on sick leave are entitled to the FMLA rights described above, plus any other rights under state or local law.

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer About Coronavirus -Related Employment Issues?

An employment lawyer can help an employer determine whether the FMLA or other state family leave laws apply to them during this global pandemic. An employment attorney can take all the facts and determine what protections you were entitled to and what protections you were denied. Similarly, if you are an employer, an employment attorney can defend and protect your rights.

Jason Cheung

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