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COVID-19: Worker Pay

As the coronavirus outbreak continues, workers have concerns regarding their pay if they are ill, quarantined or have to miss work for other reasons such as child care if schools are closed.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an article this morning outlining some common employee pay questions, which your employees may have read and you may want to be aware of as employees seek information regarding what to expect with regard to pay and job security during the outbreak. A summary of the article is below and we are preparing sample pay policy changes and communications to employees regarding pay options during illness, quarantine or other time away from work related to Coronavirus which we will post for your information.

Additionally, your benefits provider and business insurance providers can provide additional information regarding changes to health and disability insurance coverage, business interruption coverage and other insurance coverage that may be available to help employers cover business expenses, including worker pay, resulting from the outbreak.

Summary of the Post-Dispatch article:

What if I’m quarantined for 14 days but I don’t have any symptoms of illness, or my office is closed because of the virus? Will I still get paid?

Missouri, Illinois and cities and counties in the St. Louis area don’t currently have laws that require paid sick leave and federal law doesn’t require such coverage–although Congress is currently considering legislation. (The likelihood of such legislation passing quickly is uncertain–the House of Representatives may vote on legislation as soon as Thursday; however, Congress is scheduled for a twoweek break at the end of this week.) Paid leave will depend on what benefits a company offers, including paid PTO, sick or vacation leave or other paid leave. Most employers would consider being quarantined something for which workers can take paid sick leave under a PTO or sick leave policy.

Unless an employee has symptoms and has tested positive for the coronavirus, they generally won’t be eligible for short-term disability coverage, which typically kicks in

for employees out of work because of a non-work-related illness or injury after a one- or two-week waiting period. For disability benefits, workers have to not be able to do their job due to a medical or physical disability; if a worker can perform the essential responsibilities of their job, they are not eligible for disability benefits.

States may amend their disability programs to provide coverage for some employees. California, for example, is allowing people who have the coronavirus or have been exposed to it to be covered under that state’s disability insurance program. Missouri and Illinois currently have not made such changes.

If you’re quarantined and you can work remotely, you can still get paid your regular wages. A number of companies have been encouraging their employees to do that.

What if my kids’ schools are closed because of the virus and I can’t get child care, or I have to stay home to help my aging parents? Will my employer still pay me? Missouri and Illinois do not require paid sick days that require compensation for time away from work due to public health emergencies, including coverage if a child’s school is closed. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks leave for employees to take care of themselves or family members with serious health conditions. But that leave is unpaid. Paid leave may be available under an employer’s PTO, sick or other leave policies.

What if I’m exposed to the virus on the job?

If people get a job-related illness or injury, workers’ compensation insurance may pay for their medical care and rehabilitation and cover their lost wages. Workers’ compensation insurance pays 100% of medical costs, if it is applicable. However, employees may have had a hard time proving that they got a virus on the job due to the variety of potential sources of exposure. Nevertheless, workers in health care related jobs, for example, have been able to obtain workers’ compensation insurance coverage in past disease outbreaks.

My employer doesn’t offer sick leave or any paid leave. I don’t feel like I can take time off even if I feel sick. What are my options?

Employees are in a tough spot. Absent state or municipal requirements that require paid leave or new legislation at the federal level, employers aren’t required to pay employees if they dont do the job they’re hired for. That can be devastating, especially for people in lower-wage jobs. They may not be able to make the rent or put groceries on the table.

Some companies have announced changes to their paid-leave policies in recent days. Trader Joe’s, for example, is encouraging workers to stay home if they feel ill, according to news reports, and promising to pay them for lost time.

We are monitoring federal, Missouri, Illinois and local changes in law in response to the outbreak and will provide relevant updates as they become available, together with sample pay policy modifications and related employee communications during the outbreak.

If you have questions or specific questions in the meantime, contact us for guidance.

Picture of Allison McKeel

Allison McKeel

I'm an employment lawyer who has worked with hundreds of startup and established businesses and love to help dynamic companies get started and grow. Follow my blog for the latest legal news--designed to keep you legally compliant and up-to-date on innovative workplace practices.

This article is for general information only and is not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of qualified legal counsel for specific legal questions. 

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