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Regulations regarding COVID-19 are rapidly evolving. The U.S. Department of Labor, the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization can provide you with the most recent information regarding the coronavirus.

In response to the massive economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed legislation to help workers and small businesses. Many businesses are keeping safe during the outbreak by following the CDC recommendations to stay home when possible and practice social distancing.

These laws include emergency short-term paid sick leave benefits and longer-term paid family leave policies. The key piece of legislation in this regard is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which incorporates the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, considered the largest stimulus package in U.S. history, was passed soon after, with further provisions for paid sick leave and family leave.

An empty office space after workers have cleared out to work from home during the coronavirus epedemic.

What Does the Family First Medical Coronavirus Response Act Offer?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which includes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, was passed on March 18, 2020, as one of the first pieces of legislation to be signed into law in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

The act provides some employees up to 10 paid sick days and up to 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It provides federal paid leave for private-sector workers for the first time and aims to ensure workers earning low wages have access to these benefits during the pandemic.

Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, workers are entitled to paid sick leave. Under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, workers are entitled to expanded family and medical leave.

The FFCRA’s paid leave provisions are effective from April 1, 2020, and apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

How Does the CARES Act Protect Workers?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act was passed after the FFCRA, on March 27, 2020. It amends certain sections of the FFCRA. In response to the public health emergency, Congress passed a historic provision requiring paid sick leave for the coronavirus pandemic starting 15 days after the law was enacted through December 31, 2020.

The act does not diminish employees’ rights or benefits under any other federal, state or local law, collective bargaining agreement or existing employer policy.

Do I Qualify for Paid Sick Leave If I Contract Coronavirus?

If you work for a company that has less than 500 employees, you qualify for paid sick leave because of COVID-19. Bigger companies of more than 500 employees have their own regulations, while some companies with less than 50 workers may also be exempt from this if they can prove that providing paid leave will jeopardize the viability of the business.

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for paid sick time if they are unable to work (or unable to telework) because of COVID-19 symptoms and medical appointments to seek a diagnosis.

How Much Sick Leave Pay am I Entitled To?

Employees are entitled to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay, or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).

The paid sick time doesn’t carry over from one year to the next and you’re not entitled to reimbursement for unused leave if you end your employment, resign or retire. You can choose to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave or medical or sick leave for the first two weeks of partial paid leave under this section.

A man sits up in bed coughing as he stays home sick from work because of coronavirus.

What If I’m Unable to Work Because of Quarantine Orders?

If stay-at-home orders leave you unable to work, even if your employer has work for you, you may qualify for paid leave. If you work for a business that is covered, you’ll be entitled to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at your regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period). This provision doesn’t apply to some small businesses that are able to prove the additional leave will threaten their survival, or for businesses that do not have work available to employees during stay-at-home measures.

Can I Take Time Off to Care for Someone With COVID-19?

Yes, if you work for a company that has less than 500 employees, you can take time off to care for a loved one with the coronavirus. You’ll be entitled to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds of your regular rate of pay.

What If School Is Closed Due to COVID-19?

If you need to care for a child whose school or care provider is closed, you could be entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave — two weeks of paid sick leave, followed by up to 10 weeks of extended family and medical leave. This would be at two-thirds of your regular rate of pay. You have to have been at your current job for at least 30 days. If you work at a company with less than 50 employees, your employer could, however, exempt themselves from providing the 12 weeks of child care leave (but not the two weeks of sick leave).

A mother places her hand on her son's forehead to check his temperature while he sleeps.

Sick Leave If I’m a Contractor, Part-Time Worker or Freelancer

If you’re a part-time worker, you will be eligible for the number of hours of leave that you usually work on average over a two-week period and then be paid the amount you usually earn for that time.

If you’re self-employed and pay taxes, including if you’re a gig-economy worker, you are eligible to receive a tax credit. If you calculate your average daily self-employment income for the year, then you can claim the amount you take as a tax credit, up to $511 per day for a maximum of 10 days. The amount for missed work can be applied against your federal tax bill as a credit.

Can I Lose My Job for Taking Sick Leave Because of Coronavirus?

Your employer cannot fire, discipline, or in any way retaliate against you for requesting or taking emergency sick leave.

Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act of the FFCRA, private employees with fewer than 500 employees have to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work for any of the following reasons:

  • You are under a quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  • You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of concerns related to COVID-19.
  • You are having symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a diagnosis.
  • You are caring for someone who is under a quarantine order or has been advised to quarantine by a health care provider.
  • You are caring for your child whose school is closed or childcare provider is unavailable.
  • You are experiencing any other substantially similar condition as defined by law.

However, there are exceptions to this for employees of companies with fewer than 50 employees, as well as for certain health care providers and emergency responders.

You can file a complaint for unpaid sick leave (or other unpaid wages) or retaliation with the Department of Labor.

How Do I Take the Paid Leave?

If you’re eligible, you should be able to notify your employer and get paid the amount owed to you as specified by the law. Guidelines have been released by the Department of Labor to help employers calculate the paid leave their employees should receive.

Business Owner Compensation

Employers that are covered by this law qualify for reimbursement through tax credits, under the FFCRA, which are set to be paid within three months. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also said that funds would be advanced to businesses earlier if they needed it to meet the paid sick leave requirements. Funds reimbursed will also cover the employer’s contribution to health insurance premiums during the leave.

States With Mandated Paid Sick Days

On April 1, 2020, the Department of Labor issued guidelines as to how the new paid leave will work. While traditionally, many states and municipalities have regulated paid sick leave according to their own laws, this legislation is designed to provide some uniform relief in the wake of coronavirus. In addition to federal rulings and guidelines, each state has its own regulations (or lack thereof). Current federal guidelines help provide assistance to people living in states with no local laws regarding paid sick leave.

The impacts of the coronavirus have led some states to enact temporary or new regulations. This list includes each state's typical paid sick leave regulation. Keep in mind that temporary federal guidelines and new state regulations are being out in place in response to COVID-19. Contact your local government to find the latest updates on your rights as a worker in your state.

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As the coronavirus impacts communities across the country, some states are implementing temporary or new paid sick leave regulations in response. New York State, the hardest-hit area of the country, has enacted employment protection measures to help sick workers. Nationally, the paid sick leave and paid family leave laws Congress has put into place are a temporary measure and will expire on December 31. Check with your local government to see if your state's regulations have changed in response to COVID-19.

Expert Advice: Paid Sick Leave and Coronavirus

  1. If your state does not require paid sick leave and you or a family member become sick, what are your best options?

    Washington State does require paid sick leave, but even in states that do not have it, the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) still applies. FMLA provides that a covered employee can take unpaid sick leave to care for herself or a family member for up to 12 weeks and that the employee’s health benefits and job be preserved during the leave period.

    Washington state has a similar family and medical leave law (Paid Family & Medical Leave Act), which applies to employers with at least 50 employees. Covered employers must give employees time off to be with a new child, recover from their own serious health conditions, or care for a family member with a serious health condition. Employees may take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for this purpose. Much of this law overlaps with the FMLA, but it also applies to time off to care for a registered domestic partner. See Nolo.com.

  2. What should self-employed/freelance workers do to mitigate losses if they are to become sick?

    Self-employed and freelance workers usually have fewer options since they don’t have an employer. However, they can indeed elect coverage under Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave Act, in which case they would be entitled to the same benefits as any other employee in Washington.

    From Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave Act website: “If you elect coverage for Paid Leave, you can receive paid time off when you have a serious health condition that prevents you from working. Or when you need time to care for a family member or a new child. Or if your family member is about to be deployed overseas or is returning from overseas deployment, that’s when you can take this type of family leave. You can receive Paid Leave after you or a family member experience a qualifying event such as a major surgery, serious illness or injury, a new baby or child joining your family, or a family member’s military deployment. Once you have elected coverage, you will receive the same benefits as other Washington workers.”

    Of course, however, self-employed workers have to pay for those rights, approximately .25% of their wages/net income for three years: “When you sign up for Paid Leave, you agree to pay the employee share of the Paid Family and Medical Leave premium for yourself. You will pay about 0.25% of your wages/net income for three years. After that, you can participate on an annual basis. Once you opt-in, you need to report your wages/earnings every quarter. You’re enrolled in Paid Leave starting at the beginning of the quarter after you sign up. To take leave after you sign up, you need to have met the requirement for hours worked. To qualify for leave, you must have worked a minimum of 820 hours (about 16 hours a week) in Washington during the qualifying period, which is about the last year. The 820 hours can be from your self-employment or combined from multiple jobs.” See Self-employed: Electing coverage – Washington State's Paid Family and Medical Leave.


Steve Calandrillo
Steve CalandrilloBrotman Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law

About the Author


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Nadia Neophytou is a journalist based in New York City, who writes for a variety of publications from The Hollywood Reporter to Quartz.


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