Leave Protections and Wage Replacement Benefits For California Workers During COVID-19

Leave Protections and Wage Replacement Benefits For California Workers During COVID-19

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued a state-wide shelter-in-place order directing all individuals to stay home, except to provide or obtain essential services or to perform other authorized necessary activities.  Due to that order, many businesses that do not provide “essential” services are suspending operations, which is impacting jobs and workers.  Public health departments are also urging for people to practice “social distancing” and for high-risk populations (those 65 years old or older, or with certain health conditions or weakened immune systems) to stay home and take extra precautions.  In these uncertain times, employees may be considering their options and rights if they are unable to work.

The following information provides an overview of leaves that may be available for workers who need to care for themselves or their families due to COVID-19, and possible wage replacement benefits for workers who are completely or partially out of work during this time.  This information is only meant to be a summary, and workers should contact an attorney to obtain more details or advice on specific legal matters.

Sick Leave and Family Leave

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Families First Act”), recently passed by Congress and effective starting April 2, 2020, covers employers with up to 500 employees and provides emergency paid sick leave and family leave.  Under the Act, an employee is entitled to up to two weeks of paid sick leave if the employee: (1) is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; (2) has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; (3) is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; (4) is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine order or who has been advised to self-quarantine; (5) is caring for a child, if the child’s school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions; or (6) is 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 the employee is taking emergency paid sick leave to care for oneself, they will be paid their full regular rate of pay, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in total.  If the employee is taking sick leave to care for others or for other qualifying reasons, they will be paid two-thirds of their regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in total. 

Under the Act, employees can also take up to twelve weeks of paid family leave, if they have worked for the employer for at least 30 calendar days, and if they are unable to work or telework due to a need to care for their child, if the child’s school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to a public health emergency.  When an employee takes this family leave, the first 10 days may be unpaid.  The employee may elect to substitute any accrued vacation leave or personal leave, medical or sick leave for unpaid leave during the initial 10 days.  After 10 days, the employee will be paid two-thirds of their regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $10,000 in total.

Besides the Families First Act, there are other state and federal laws that may provide leave protections to employees.  The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) require employers to provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for a serious health condition of the employee or their family member.  While such leave is unpaid, the employer must continue maintaining the employee’s coverage under group health benefit plans.  The FMLA and CFRA covers employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, and employees who have worked for at least one year total for the employer and at least 1,250 hours in the last calendar year before the start of their leave. Because the Families First Act actually amends the FMLA to include COVID-19 as an additional qualifying reason for leave and provides this emergency paid sick leave benefit, the Families First Act leave does not provide an additional twelve weeks of leave on top of the twelve weeks under the FMLA.

Wage Replacement

Benefits programs administered by the California Employment Development Department (EDD) may be available to help employees with wage replacement during the coronavirus pandemic. 

If an employee is unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19, and they have supporting medical documentation, they can file a State Disability Insurance (SDI) claim.  SDI provides short-term benefits payments to workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness or injury.  The benefit amounts cover approximately 60 to 70 percent of an employee’s wages (depending on income), up to a maximum of $1,300 per week for up to 52 weeks.

Employees who are unable to work because they are caring for a sick or quarantined family member due to COVID-19 can file a claim for Paid Family Leave (PFL).  Again, supporting medical documentation is required.  PFL provides up to six weeks of benefits payments at the SDI rate to employees who have a full or partial loss of wages due to time off work to care for a seriously ill family member.  Starting July 1, 2020, PFL will provide up to eight weeks of benefits payments to eligible employees.

For employees who lose their jobs or have their hours reduced due to COVID-19, they may be able to file for Unemployment Insurance (UI).  Eligible workers can receive benefits of up to a maximum of $450 per week, for potentially at least 13 to 26 weeks depending on their claim’s maximum award and weekly benefits paid.  Employees who miss work due to their child’s school shutting down may be eligible for UI benefits, and those applications are being considered by the EDD on a case-by-case basis.

By the Governor’s executive order, the usual one-week waiting period for SDI and UI benefits has been waived, so eligible workers can receive their benefits faster.

Other Questions?

For more information on worker protections and rights during the COVID-19 situation and the shelter-in-place orders, please contact us online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.  Employers and employees should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.  Any links contained in this article are only for the convenience of the reader, and do not constitute recommendations or endorsements of the contents of the third-party sites.

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