Remaining in a paid status is a crucial thing for every employee. Receiving full wages each pay period not only ensures you have money to pay your bills each month but going into an unpaid status may have other detrimental effects that you haven’t considered. Falling into an unpaid leave status can affect whether or not you continue to accrue benefits and seniority. It may also impact your years of service and amount earned with regard to retirement, and in some cases, it could even lead to your termination. Therefore, it is in your best interest to remain in a paid status if you have to take leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are some helpful tips to help you do that.
The best way to make sure you remain in a paid status is to continue to work from home if you are able. Being able means (1) you are not symptomatic with the COVID-19 virus, and (2) your job can be performed from home. Your ability to work remotely will be fact-specific to your employer and type of job. Whether or not you are allowed to work remotely is the first question every employee should ask because it will enable you to keep your leave benefits available for a later time. It also allows you to continue to perform your job functions for your employer.
Last spring, Congress passed an act that grants paid leave to employees who contract COVID-19, are required to quarantine by a doctor or governmental institution due to possible exposure to the virus, or have care needs for children as the result of the pandemic. If you are forced to quarantine or get sick, you are entitled to up to two weeks of paid leave at 100% pay. If you are caring for children due to COVID-19 and no other care option is available, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave at 2/3 of your regular rate of pay. Here are links to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website if you have questions regarding the administration of the leave:
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act Q&A
- NH Employee Rights
*Note- some front line workers are exempt from this leave under the law, although many employers are still extending the benefit. This benefit is currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2020, but Congress is discussing new bills that may impact this expiration.
Paid Administrative Leave
Most employers may place employees on paid administrative leave for any number of reasons. While employees should not expect to be put into an indefinite paid leave status due to a COVID-19 related issue, some employers may allow employees to exercise or negotiate this option with the union under certain conditions. If you aren’t sure, ask your union representative and HR about this option.
Once you have either exhausted your FFCRA leave or have determined it is not applicable, your next best option is likely contractual leave. All contracts negotiated by the SEA are different. Still, everyone contains various forms of leave, including Sick Leave, Annual/Vacation Leave, Earned Time Off, Paid Time Off, Personal Leave, Bonus Leave, Compensatory Time, or Floating Holidays.
Some collective bargaining agreements provide for short-term disability. If you have exhausted other options, you should ask your HR or Union representative about applying for short-term disability if such a benefit exists.
Shared/Supplemental Sick Leave
Some contracts allow for other employees to donate leave to other employees in moments of need. Typically, access to this benefit requires that you exhaust all other forms of leave before being eligible.
If you contract COVID-19, and you can trace the source to your place of work, you should inquire about worker’s compensation.
While this should generally be an option of last resort, if you cannot stay in a paid leave situation and cannot return to work, you may want to apply for unemployment compensation. Federal legislation has expanded the legal reasons for receiving worker’s compensation. Although these laws are frequently in flux, you should contact your employment security office and inquire or apply for benefits if you find yourself in an unpaid or unemployed status.
For contract specific questions, please reach out to your SEA representative.