What Your Employer Can and Can't Do During COVID

Today we're covering some pretty intense topics about COVID, employers, and employees.

We're going to cover four things in this post:

  1. What your employer can and can't do during covid. 
  2. Staying safe in the workplace.
  3. Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
  4. Unemployment.

I guarantee you'll learn something that will help your life or your business.

1. What your employer can and cannot do because of COVID:

Common Questions:

  • Can my employer take my temperature? Yes.
  • Can my employer require a negative test result? Yes.
  • Can my employer make me work from home? Yes! 
  • Can my employer force me to take leave if I'm sick with covid or have symptoms? Yes.

Employers can take steps to minimize potential infection.

Don't be surprised if you come up with symptoms or a positive test result and you get sent home immediately; that's well within their rights as employers.

If you haven't been diagnosed with Covid-19, but also have those symptoms, what can they make you do? Basically the exact same thing! They can send you home, they can make you quarantine, they can make you have a negative test result, all of that good stuff.

One caveat as an employer: you cannot legally apply these policies in a discriminatory way. 

For example, you can't force people to quarantine or test or do anything like that if the policy is applied in a discriminatory fashion. But otherwise, if it's for the legitimate interests of the business (like stopping the spread of COVID), employers can take preventative measures. 


2. Staying Safe in the Workplace:

So what your employer is required to do to keep you safe while at work?

Are they required to give you PPE? It depends. 

They are required to give you whatever is needed to keep you safe in the workplace. If you are client-facing or doing something like that, they can be required to give you masks, gloves, face shields, goggles, whatever it takes for you to be safe in the workplace. 

What do you do if you think your workplace is unsafe? 

Well, three easy steps:

  1. Document it with details, pictures, type it out, etc.
  2. Give your employer notice; let them know what's going on, and give them an opportunity to correct it. 
  3. If they don't correct it, then you need to report it to the appropriate authorities, which could be OSHA, the Division of Workers Compensation, or El Paso's Covid Compliance (915-832-4400).

If your employer retaliates against you for reporting unsafe conditions, then you report that. If you get fired or terminated because you reported these unsafe conditions, you can file a lawsuit.

If you quit your job because your workplace is unsafe, you may still be eligible for unemployment. 

If you feel like your workplace is unsafe, you can refuse to work, you can ask to work from home. All of those things are actions if you feel unsafe in the workplace.


3. Families First Coronavirus Act:

Our next topic, a lot of you employees will like but a lot of you employers will not.

The first thing that I'm going to say about the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is this: Employers, if you can't afford to give your employees required sick time under the law, you're going to get that back in a refundable tax credit. That's the good news. However, you're going to have to front the money though. That's the bad news. 

For employers that have 50 to 500 employees, you're going to have to pay sick leave. If your employee gets sick with COVID, is quarantined because of COVID, or is awaiting results, they can get up to two weeks of sick leave, above and beyond their accrued leave, and you have to pay at 100% up to $5,100. 

If they are caring for someone like a minor child or family member who has COVID, is waiting for test results, or is quarantined because of COVID, then you have to give that employee two weeks of sick leave at 2/3 pay up to $2,000. 

If a child is out of school or can't go to daycare because of COVID (virtual learning counts) you have to give 12 weeks at 2/3 pay with a cap of $12,000.

Note the following exceptions:

  1. Healthcare workers.
  2. Companies with less than 50 employees also may apply for an exception to that 12-week requirement.
  3. Companies over 500 aren't covered by the FFCRA.

This law is in effect until December 31st. Most businesses are not complying.

A couple of things about the FFCRA: you need to have a COVID diagnosis or are required to quarantine.

If you have symptoms, but never went to the doctor and were never diagnosed with COVID, then you're not going to qualify for the paid sick leave. Same thing if you have the symptoms, go to the doctor and are negative for COVID, you may qualify for paid sick leave for the time that you are awaiting test results and when you went into the doctor, but the time that you were sick afterwards with something not related to COVID, is not going to count.

What about the Shelter in Place Order? 

If businesses are closed at their physical location, the FFCRA may apply but it does not if you still have work to do and you can telework. So if you can still work, doesn't matter on what schedule during the day, the FFCRA will not give you that two weeks paid sick leave.


4. Unemployment:

As an employer, I always want to know bottom line upfront.

If people are claiming that they lost their job or have reduced hours due to COVID, am I on the hook to pay for that unemployment? 

And the answer right now is NO.

Unemployment was extended to cover all types of employees including the self-employedcontractorspart-time, all of those people who have lost work due to COVID. They all may be eligible under a particular program to apply for unemployment.

Same thing if you're working at reduced hours because of COVID, you can get partial unemployment. If you quit because of unsafe working conditions, or you were laid off or furloughed because of COVID, you can apply for unemployment benefits. The standard unemployment benefits are between $69 and $500 or so per week, depending on what you make, how many hours are reduced or if you're fully unemployed.

As of November 1st, you now have to search for jobs. For a while, that job search requirement was suspended. But traditionally, to get unemployment benefits, you have to search for enough jobs per week and try to apply for those jobs in order to continue to qualify.

When can you apply for unemployment? 

Immediately! If you were terminated today because of COVID or you were laid off or given reduced hours, you can apply tomorrow. You don't have a two-week waiting period.



There are so many companies that aren’t following the rules right now. Don’t be one of them! You can’t say you were warned . . .