By Hannah Cramer, For the Express-News
As Texas reopens, most workers who cannot work remotely are understandably worried about their health and safety. Some do not know whether it’s better to stay home for the health of their families, or go back to work to keep their job and pay for necessities.
While hardly perfect, new COVID-19 leave laws give workers the right to paid COVID-19 time off if they’re told to quarantine, if they’re taking care of a sick family member or child whose school is closed, or if a child care provider is unavailable because of COVID-19.
Even though most employers are required to share information about leave rights for employees, many workers don’t know about the new law.
Most workers are now eligible for two weeks of leave at full pay if they are under a stay-at-home order, told to quarantine by a health care provider, or have COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a diagnosis. Most workers are also eligible for two weeks of reduced-pay leave to take care of a family member with COVID-19, and up to 12 weeks of reduced-pay leave to take care of a child whose school or child care provider is closed.
Department of Labor charts, posters and guidance explaining the law are available online at dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic. For more information about rules and eligibility, visit the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid website or talk with a lawyer.
If you need time off because of COVID-19, follow the policy that your employer has updated, or if there is no updated policy, request COVID-19 leave the same way you request any time off. Make sure to say you need COVID-19 leave and explain why you cannot work. Tell your supervisor the names of everyone involved — the health care provider who advised you to quarantine, the child or family member you are caring for, or the school or day care that’s shut down. A doctor’s note isn’t necessary.
However, not all companies have to provide COVID-19 time off. Companies with more than 500 workers are not covered. Employers of health care providers and emergency responders can choose whether to offer this leave. Small companies with less than 50 workers can also decide to not provide the 12 weeks of family leave for workers whose children are stuck at home if granting the leave might force the business to shut its doors. Regardless, those small companies must still provide sick leave to workers advised to quarantine or those who are sick. All businesses should talk to a lawyer to clarify how the rules apply to them.
Even if a company isn’t covered by the new laws, having a COVID-19 leave policy makes sense. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explained that flexible and supportive leave policies are critical to maintaining healthy business operations. Employees who aren’t given leave may come to work sick out of fear of losing their jobs only to spread COVID-19 throughout their workplaces.
If a company is covered, tax credits may be available to recover the cost of providing COVID-19 leave. Check with your tax adviser. And having a COVID-19 leave policy in place (and posting the mandatory notice from the Department of Labor’s website) should reduce the risk of a lawsuit down the line. COVID-19 leave laws allow workers to recover damages if they’re wrongfully denied leave or retaliated against for asking for COVID-19 leave.
When employers follow these laws and workers know their rights, Texas will be safer for everyone.
Hannah Cramer is a staff attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 Southwestern counties, including the entire Texas-Mexico border.