The Coronavirus and Sick Leave State Laws

ByNadia Neophytou

Updated: November 7, 2023

ByNadia Neophytou

Updated: November 7, 2023

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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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


About Nadia Neophytou

Nadia Neophytou headshot

Nadia Neophytou is a journalist based in New York City who writes for various leading American and South African publications, such as The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Deadline, Quartz, Glamour, the Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times, Forbes Africa and more. Nadia also worked as an arts and entertainment journalist for Eyewitness News, and as the news network's US correspondent for South Africa. She has covered topics ranging from Occupy Wall Street, numerous mass shootings, the re-election of Barack Obama, Donald Trump's election and the #MeToo movement.