A Complete Guide on 5 Legal Protections for COVID-Related Medical Leave

A Complete Guide on 5 Legal Protections for COVID-Related Medical Leave

The Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the United State’s economy. Small to mid-sized businesses have witnessed a massive dip in sales and revenue due to a two-month countrywide lockdown.

Now, as the economy is reopening in phases, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect working individuals, businesses, and communities. Veteran employment lawyers in MA are of the view that ensuring legal protection for COVID-related medical leaves will help instill confidence among the employees.

According to industry reports, the need for sick leave or family medical leave has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Those who have contracted the disease or are caregivers to family members comprise of the majority applicants.

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by the Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security (CARES) Act, certain employees who need to take time off due to COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for extended protection, and their employers cannot terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee having applied for sick-leave.

The two key provisions of the FFCRA are the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). These provisions and the FFCRA became effective from April 2, 2020, and will last through December 31, 2020.

If you’re among those individuals who have taken leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic either under EPSAL or the EFMLEA, you need to know your rights. This way, you’ll have a proper understanding whether employers are violating them.

So, let’s discuss in detail the 5 legal protections for COVID-related medical leave!

 

  1. It’s Illegal for a Qualified Employer to Refuse Paid Sick Leave to Eligible Employees under EPSLA

 

If a qualified employer fails to provide paid sick leave as mentioned in the EPSLA, then it will be considered equivalent of the employer failing to pay the minimum wage, which is a violation of section 206 of the fair Labor Standards Act and the employee will have the right to file a civil lawsuit.

Additionally, the employers will be subjected to enforcement proceedings mentioned in sections 216 and 217 of the FLSA. A violation of these acts can lead to the following penalties –

 

  • Fines of up to USD 10,000, or imprisonment up to 6 months.

 

  • Payment of monetary damages in the amount of unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, and/ or lost wages along with liquidated damages in an amount equal to unpaid wages, overtime, and/or lost wages.

 

  • Payment of employee’s attorney’s fees and costs incurred throughout the proceeding.

 

  • Injunction proceeding, where the court can order the employer to stop violation.

 

2. Employers Can’t Retaliate Against Eligible Employees Who Have Taken or Requested Paid Sick Leave Under the EPSLA.

 

If an employee has requested or has taken emergency paid sick leave under the EPSLA, the employer can by no means retaliate against the person. The EPSLA specifically prohibits qualified employers from taking disciplinary or discriminatory actions against any employee because –

 

  • The employee took emergency paid sick leave.

 

  • The employee initiated a proceeding under or related to paid sick leave.

 

  • The employee testified or plans to testify in a proceeding related to paid sick leave.

 

Employers engaging in any unlawful retaliation shall be considered violators of section 215 (a) (3) of the Fair Labor and Standards Act. Penalties for employers violating EPSLA in this manner can include –

  • Fines of up to USD 10,000, or imprisonment up to 6 months.

 

  • Monetary payments equivalent to an employee’s lost wages.

 

  • Additional liquidated damages in a monetary amount equal to employee’s lost wages.

 

  • Additional liquidated damages in a monetary amount equivalent to the lost wage of the employer.

 

  • Payment of employee’s attorney fee and costs to conduct the legal proceeding.

 

Employers found violating this act may also be required to provide equitable relief to the employee, which can include employment, reinstatement to the prior position, or a promotion.

 

3. It is Unlawful for Qualified Employers to Interfere With An Employee’s Exercise of Their Rights

Under the EFMLEA, qualified employers are subject to similar requirements outlined in section 2615 of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In other words, if an employee exercises or attempts to exercise their rights under the EFMLEA, then qualified employers are prohibited from engaging in any of the following.

  • Interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee of their rights under the EFMLEA.

 

  • Discriminating against an employee who opposes employer practices that are deemed unlawful under the EFMLEA.

 

  • Interfering with proceedings initiated under the EFMLEA.

 

Employers violating these prohibitions are subject to the enforcement provisions outlined in section 107 of the FMLA. The penalties may include the following –

 

  • Monetary damages equivalent to wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost by the employee.

 

  • Monetary damages in the amount of any actual financial losses sustained by the employee as a direct result of the violation.

 

  • Payment of interest accrued on the amount of monetary damages awarded.

 

  • Liquidated damages equivalent to lost or denied wages, salary, employment benefits, or any other monetary losses.

 

  • Payment of employee’s attorney fee and costs to bring legal action.

 

  • Equitable relief provided to the employee in the form of employment, reinstatement to prior position, and or promotion.

 

4. Qualified Employers Cannot Dictate or Influence the Type of Leave Eligible Employees Choose

 

Under the FFCRA, qualified employers cannot deny emergency paid sick leaves or expanded family and medical leave, citing that the employee has already taken another type of leave.

In other words, when an employee requests paid leave under either the EPSLA or EFMLEA, the employer must permit the employee to take such a leave immediately, no matter how many leaves the employee took prior to the pandemic.

 

5. Paid Sick Leave Taken Under the EPSLA Does Not Negatively Impact An Employee’s Other Rights & Employment Benefits

      

When an eligible employee under the EPSLA uses paid sick leaves, the employers can by no means diminish, reduce, or eliminate that employee’s other rights or benefits to which they are entitled under the law. Additionally, the employer cannot deduct leaves available to the employees from other sources if she/he is eligible for EPSLA.

So, here was our complete guide on legal protection for COVID-related medical leaves. Consult an experienced employment lawyer in MA today if you think your employer denies you the rights, as stated in EPSLA.

Also, let us know in the comment section whether these measures are adequate, or if the Federal Government needs to come up with something more concrete.