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Employers have an obligation to allow workers time off

by | Apr 14, 2020 | Firm News

School closings and the transition to working from home are adding stress to employees already struggling to balance work and family life. Depending on the number of people in your employ, the potential of needing to provide time for workers to care for sick family members is an additional legitimate concern your business will likely need to address.

Although you provide health insurance and paid time off (PTO) for your workforce, specific circumstances may require more. Learning how you should respond during the current crisis can help you meet your employees’ needs while adhering to applicable state and federal laws.

How much time off must you allow your employees?

According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most companies need an annual allowance of up to twelve weeks for employees to recover from serious health conditions or to care for a child, spouse or parent. However, under the current circumstances, you may consider allowing flexibility in your leave policy so employees can take care of their personal health while mitigating the risk of contagion among coworkers.

Can you require employees to stay home from work?

Your sick leave policies may determine how you handle employee illness. If your pandemic response requires uncompensated time off, you must validate that an employee poses a substantial risk of harm by remaining at work and explore your options for reasonable accommodations before you make a decision. As always, carefully consider whether an employee would have grounds for making a discriminatory claim.

What federal regulations apply to employment leave?

Because quarantining a patient is widely-used to prevent the spread of the pandemic, you may need to provide workers up to 80 hours of paid leave time under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Until the end of the year, this could include up to two weeks of full pay during quarantine or up to two weeks of reduced pay while caring for a loved one.

Present circumstances may affect your business, whether through decreased sales, employee absences or mandatory shutdowns. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to navigate a company through uncharted territory like you are dealing with today.

However, adhering to state and federal employment laws can help protect you from allegations and costly litigation. Providing ways for your employees to address their health concerns now may be what you need to retain workers after the shelter-in-place order ends.