Back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first began to affect workers, congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This act expands access to paid and unpaid leave for workers who have been directly affected by COVID-19. In response to the passing of this act, the Department of Labor (DOL) released its own guidelines for employers and employees navigating the FFCRA and other challenges they may face when dealing with COVID-19.
Just a few weeks ago the DOL updated those guidelines, specifically in the treatment and policies related to workers who are on leave due to COVID-19 exposure, workers who are furloughed, and workers who are currently working from home.
When dealing with workers who are on leave due to being in contact with a person that has tested positive for COVID-19, the DOL gave both a warning to employers as well as a possible policy that can be enacted to better protect workplaces from spreading the virus.
First, the DOL warns employers that they cannot refuse workers from taking leave if its related to them being exposed to COVID-19. Moreover, the DOL also stated that once workers do decide to take leave due to COVID-19 exposure, employers cannot treat them any differently for it.
Along with the warning, the DOL also offered employers a policy that can be enacted in order to keep workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 from returning to work too early and thus posing a risk to the rest of the workplace. However, this policy cannot be used to target a specific worker instead it needs to be enacted as a general policy for all workers. A perfect example of this is when employers require that all workers who were on leave ,due to COVID-19 exposure, cannot return to work unless they have a test result showing they are COVID-19 negative.
The updated guidelines also touched upon the rights of those who have been placed on furlough during the pandemic. For instance, the DOL made sure to remind all that an employee on furlough is not the same thing as a employee on leave. Thus, if a worker had already taken two weeks of leave before being furloughed for several weeks more, then that worker will still only be registered taking two weeks of leave once they return to work. Moreover, workers that do return from furlough should also be given the same position they held before. This would ensure that these workers would still retain the same requirements needed to be eligible for time off.
The last group the DOL addresses in their guidelines are employees who are currently working from home. In regard to these workers, the DOL states that employers who are allowing flexibility due their employees having to take care of children or other non-work tasks, would only need to pay them for the time they were actually spent working. The DOL even provided their own example of a worker who was given a flexible arrangement to start working at 7 a.m. to later take some time in the morning and afternoon to provide at home instruction to their kids, in order to finish working in the evening and clocking out at 9 p.m. As for this particular example the DOL said that “Of course, you must compensate your employee for all hours actually worked – 7.5 hours – that day, but not all 14 hours between your employee’s firs principal activity at 7 a.m. and last at 9 p.m.”
In a statement relating to the release of these new guidelines, Cheryl Stanton, the administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, stated that “with so many workers and employers committed to the greatest comeback the American workforce has ever seen, we are providing ongoing guidance to help them better understand their rights and responsibilities to protect workers and help ensure a level playing field for employers as our economy recovers.”
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