Although all counties in Pennsylvania are currently under the green stage of reopening phases, Governor Wolf, on July 15, 2020, imposed additional restrictions on bars and restaurants and has requested that businesses require workers to telework unless it is impossible to do so. For those that cannot telework, returning to the workplace may create an increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
If you are someone who has returned to the workplace you may have questions about what might happened if you need to take time away from work due to COVID-19. Are there benefits available if you have to miss time from work because you contracted COVID-19? If you believe you contracted COVID-19 at your workplace, can you make a claim for workers’ compensation? Will you be eligible for any benefits if you miss time from work to care for a relative who has COVID-19 or because you need to stay home to look after a minor child whose school or daycare is closed? These are all important concerns for individuals as they return to work.
There are certain programs in place already to help workers who have to miss time from work due to COVID-19. These include:
Family First Coronavirus Response Act
Under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), most employers with 500 or less employees must provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for employees sick or quarantined due to COVID-19. The FFCRA provides:
- full pay for sick or quarantined employees for 80 hours;
- 2/3 pay if caring for another;
- paid sick leave is capped at $511.00 per day, and $5,110.00 total per employee;
- sick leave caps at $200.00 per day and a total of $2000.00 per employee when leave is taken to care for a family member in quarantine or to care for child while that child’s school or daycare is closed.
The benefits will only be payable if the employee:
- is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order;
- has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine;
- has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
- is caring for a relative who is quarantined or in isolation; or
- is unable to work because his/her child’s school or childcare is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19.
An additional 10 weeks of paid family medical leave at two thirds (2/3) of the employee’s regular pay can be available if the employee cannot work because his/her minor child’s school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19 precautions. To be eligible for this benefit, the employee must have been on the payroll for 30 days. An employee who was laid off after March 1, 2020 but returns to work is eligible for the emergency family leave under the FFCRA without having to again meet the 30 days requirement after returning to work. The benefit is paid at 66% of the regular earnings but is capped at $200.00/day and $12,000.00 total.
Sick leave benefits are available until December 31, 2020.
If you use your 80 hours in sick leave and do not qualify for the emergency family leave then you can apply for assistance under coronavirus unemployment laws. Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), employees will receive a minimum benefit that is equal to one half (1/2) of their state’s averaged weekly unemployment benefits. They will also be able to receive an additional six hundred dollars ($600.00) a week until the week ending July 26, 2020 through the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) part of the law. The U.S. Congress is currently working another package that will replace the PUC part of the law.
Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation
Employees who contracted COVID-19 on the job would also have the ability to file a Workers’ Compensation claim because the workers’ compensation system provides medical treatment and wage loss benefits for employees who suffer a work-related injury or disease. A work-related COVID-19 injury could be regarded as a traumatic injury or as an occupational disease under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act.
There are steps that a worker will need to take in order to seek workers’ compensation benefits if exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. The employee must notify the employer to file an injury claim and that will require the employee to provide medical evidence that they were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. Potentially employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace could file an occupational disease claim which would require the employee to establish that COVID-19 is occurring more in his/her occupation and industry than in the general population.
The Pennsylvania Legislature has passed laws which provide automatic entitlement to benefits for law enforcement officers diagnosed and quarantined due to COVID-19 regardless of the source of the COVID-19 infection. The Legislature has also considered creating a presumption of a work-related hazard for employees in life sustaining businesses and occupations such those in the medical field, restaurant industry and retail fields. To date this legislation has not been enacted into law.
Talk to a Knowledgeable Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
Kelly Enders is an attorney at Caroselli Beachler & Coleman, and she is available to discuss and assist employees who are faced with workplace injuries due to COVID-19. An initial consultation can occur over the phone or by a video-call. We have decades of experience handling routine and complex work-related injury and disease cases. Contact one of our experienced Pittsburgh Workers’ Compensation attorneys at (866) 466-5789 or through our website contact form.