Posted On: April 23, 2020
Government efforts to stimulate the economy, keep businesses afloat and offer relief to displaced workers have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Everyone is anxious to learn how the programs funded by the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will directly affect their families and livelihoods.
As the workforce, workplace disability advisor, we naturally have concerns about the employment-related components of this new legislation. Fortunately, we were able to tap into the vast expertise of Andrew L. Metcalf, SDI Young Friend and Associate at Ogletree Deakins specializing in Employment Law. Highly knowledgeable on all legal matters pertaining to the workplace, Andrew was gracious enough to answer a few of our employment questions in the age of COVID-19.
Career Seeker: If I am laid off or working fewer hours as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, am I entitled to unemployment benefits? How does the CARES Act affect unemployment benefits in Missouri?
Andrew: A layoff may generally trigger eligibility for unemployment benefits. Reduced hours may also create an entitlement to partial benefits. Missouri has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor as contemplated under the CARES Act.
What this means is that certain individuals eligible to receive unemployment due to COVID-19 may be paid an extra $600 in addition to their regular weekly unemployment benefits for up to four months but not beyond July 31, 2020.
Career Seeker: As a self-employed, independent contractor, I know I am not typically eligible for unemployment benefits. But if I am unable to work due to the Coronavirus pandemic, does the CARES Act offer any special assistance for 1099 contractors?
Andrew: The CARES Act permits an individual who is self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker to receive unemployment benefits under certain circumstances. The individual must self-certify that he or she is able and available to work within the meaning of applicable state law and is “unemployed, partially unemployed or unable or unavailable to work” because of various COVID-19- related reasons.
Career Seeker: I’ve heard that Missouri’s Shared Work Program might serve as an alternative to layoffs. How does this program work? If a company pursues this program, will employees need to file an unemployment claim to participate? How long will this shared work arrangement last?
Andrew: The Missouri Division of Employment Security does have a Shared Work Unemployment Program. It is designed as an alternative to layoffs. And there are alternatives to termination in the age of COVID-19, as my firm recently wrote about in a blog post.
The first step in the process is for the employer to apply with the MO Division
of Employment Security, submitting a variety of information DES looks for about the reduction in work. After that, an employee must meet the eligibility criteria for regular unemployment benefits in order to be considered for participation.
Career Seeker: If my employer has never offered paid sick leave before, is the company now obligated to offer paid leave in the event I become infected with the Coronavirus or have to care for a family member who has?
Andrew: Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, certain employees may be entitled to some paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. The law applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. An employee may be eligible for up to 80 hours of leave if he or she is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19, or experiences symptoms of COVID-19 or is caring for an individual who has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19.
Career Seeker: If my employer already offers paid sick leave, am I entitled to the paid leave provided under the new legislation in addition to what I currently receive? Am I required to exhaust my vacation or other Paid Time Off banks before dipping into it?
Andrew: The answer depends on the reason why the employee is taking off work. If the employee takes off work for one of the reasons provided in the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (i.e., due to symptoms of COVID-19, being ordered to quarantine, caring for someone ordered to quarantine, etc.), then the leave is in addition to other leave entitlements. Employers and employees can agree that the leave entitlements will run concurrently, which in certain circumstances may allow the employee to supplement the amount earned from paid sick leave up to normal earnings.
If the employee is taking leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (i.e., leave due to school closures or childcare unavailability), then the situation is different. The first two weeks of EFMLEA leave are generally unpaid, but if the employer agrees, then the employee can simultaneously take leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act or paid sick leave up to his or her normal earnings. After the first two weeks of EFMLEA leave, an employee may elect (or the employer may require) the employee to take the remaining amount of EFMLEA leave concurrently with any existing paid leave that, under the employer’s policies, would normally be available for use in that circumstance.