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California Labor Law and COVID-19: Top questions asked by California Workers

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California employees and employers are navigating a new workplace with added health precautions and financial issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Francisco, CAPutting into place public health measures to deal with COVID-19 also raises a number of California labor law issues. Employers are scrambling to navigate a new workplace, which could mean their employees working from home. And employees are anxious to understand their legal rights. Here are the top FAQ’s asked by employees.

1. Do I have the right to work from home?

There is no California law or federal law that gives employees the right to work remotely, or the right to ask to work remotely. If you work in San Francisco, the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance gives some employees the right to request certain arrangements — including working from home — to assist with caregiving responsibilities. This ordinance only provides a formal process for workers to request this type of accommodation.

According to UC Berkeley labor law professor Catherine Fisk, If a worker is immune-compromised and the employer hasn’t already issued guidance to employees about working from home, it is possible the worker might be able to seek telecommuting accommodations per state and federal disability law. “Employers should be thinking about the safety measures and benefits they can provide as they balance performing essential functions with protecting their workers from this infectious disease,” said Fisk.

2. Can I get paid if I am unable to work or sick?

People unable to work should apply for state unemployment insurance or disability insurance — or both if they’re unsure which is appropriate, says the California Employment Development Department. The department is already experiencing “a large increase in claims.”

From the California Labor Commissioner’s FAQ page:

“Employees may be eligible to use paid sick leave: “Paid sick leave can be used for absences due to illness, the diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition or preventative care for the employee or the employee’s family member. Preventative care may include self-quarantine as a result of potential exposure to COVID-19 if quarantine is recommended by civil authorities.”

3. What happens if I have tested positive for the Corona virus and I’ve run out of sick days?

Anyone who lost their job because they contracted the virus, or are caregiving for someone who has, could receive up to $1,300 a week.

If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19, as certified by a medical professional, you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week. The one-week unpaid waiting period has been waived, allowing benefits to be collected for the first week you are out of work. If you’re eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.

If you’re unable to work because you’re caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, as certified by a medical professional, you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim.

4. I work in a restaurant that temporarily closed—at least until April 7. Should I get my final paycheck?

In the Bay Area for instance, restaurants can stay open but only for take-out and delivery. If a business is temporarily closing to comply with these orders, employers are not required to issue final paychecks.

According to the State of California’s Employment Development Department (EDD):

“If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim, UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.”

See here for more information about filing a claim.

 5. Can I get disability benefits if I am quarantined?

Yes, if your quarantine is certified by a medical professional or a state or local health officer. If you are not found eligible for disability insurance, “you are encouraged to apply for an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim”.

6. I am an independent contractor. Do I have any benefits if I am diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed under quarantine?

According to the Los Angeles Times, some Uber and Lyft drivers filed a complaint in California, asking courts to issue immediate injunctions forcing the ride-hailing companies to classify them as employees in accordance with AB 5, as concern about the coronavirus grows.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote a letter asking Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Grubhub, DoorDash and Instacart to provide some means of financial safety for drivers and couriers who become ill. A labor attorney filed an emergency complaint in California against each company, reported The Hill. Uber has offered up to 14 days of paid time to drivers if they contract the virus, while Lyft has said it will “provide funds to drivers” if they are infected.

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