Things You Need To Know About Sick Leave During The Coronavirus Pandemic

April 01, 2020

Close up portrait of sick young man lying on couch and holding ice pack on foreh
Emmanuel Feranmi

The novel coronavirus is spreading like wildfire throughout the world. It's present in almost all countries, and several governments have announced social distancing as part of official measures to curb the spread. Schools have been closed down, and some offices have told employees that they should work from home. While some offices have decided to invest in safer furniture like workstations with UV sterilization, others have decided to set up a remote system of working. Here's all you need to know about sick leave during this pandemic.

First off, you need to know whether your company has a sick leave policy. Sick leave means that when you fall ill, you're paid for the same number of hours as you would have worked if you were not ill. This ensures that you don't have to force yourself to come in for work even when sick as your salary would be paid regardless.

Some companies, instead of having a sick leave policy, have a paid time off policy instead. This means you're given a fixed duration of days on the calendar where you get paid without working. You can use this duration for vacationing or you can use it when you fall ill.

Other companies have a policy where you can accrue paid sick leave over the course of working. This means that you can be awarded an hour of sick leave for every 40 hours or so of work.

However, you must take into consideration the fact that not all companies have a paid sick leave policy. In fact, a sizable number of people work without sick leave coverage. That's why it is extremely important to know whether your company has a sick leave policy or not.

Taking Care Of a Family Member With Coronavirus

In this case, you'll have to check your company's sick leave policy. Many companies have policies that allow you to take care of sick family members with your sick leave. It goes without saying, though, that companies without a sick leave policy in the first place are unlikely to have policies that cover this.

Taking Time Off For Children

Schools all over the country are closed. That much is a fact. But now that they have nowhere to go, what happens? Well, some states and municipalities like New Jersey, San Diego, Chicago and Michigan have said that sick leave can be used to take care of children. If you work in states like these, then your company's policy should reflect the official line.

 

What Happens When I Run Out Of Sick Time

State laws often only require that employers provide only about one to two weeks of sick leave per year (if they provide at all). If you are work at a company that requires you to accrue sick leaves, you may not even have accrued enough time. So this is a valid concern.

In this case, you may be able to use your vacation time in lieu of sick leave. If you've used up your sick leave, you could ask whether you're allowed to have a negative sick leave balance. This means that you're taking sick leave off future sick leaves and that you will be mandated to accrue the hours for the sick leave that you've "spent". There are also some companies that allow workers to take time off— however, this is often on an unpaid basis.

You should also note that if you or a family members falls seriously ill, you may be eligible for about twelve weeks of unpaid sick leave under the federal Family And Medical Leave Act. You should also know that this act only applies to companies with more than fifty workers who have worked there for a year or more. However, it's important to know that the flu (as some are calling the coronavirus) is not considered a serious enough condition and may not be covered by the act.

Even in this case, you have to be very conversant with what state laws say. States like California and New York have laws that cover a broader range of workers and may actually guarantee some payment during the leave period.

If Worried About Catching Covid-19 From Workers, Can You Stay At Home?

A lot of companies have implemented remote working channels in order to deal with Covid-19. Others have implemented safer workplace practices like providing hand sanitizer at entry and exit points. Other have provided desks like the MonitorStand Workstation. This workstation comes with UV sterilization, and it makes it easier for workers to disinfect their desk, phones and other such things.

If you're not comfortable with coming in for work because of coronavirus fears, the best thing to do is to check if your company has a policy that allows remote work.  

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