COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone's mind. There is a ton of information out there and it can definitely start to feel overwhelming. One of the most concerning issues that have come up recently and where most of the questions I've gotten, surround what happens if someone's job shuts down and they don't have a work from home option (think manufacturing, construction, waitresses, bartenders, maintenance, etc.) "How will I get paid? Can my job just close? What can I do to make sure I'm good?" #QTNA
I've put together a list of recommended action items for you to ensure you are arming yourself with information for some sense of stability, as this chaotic and ever-changing situation unfolds.
Health Information: We are not physicians or infectious disease doctors. Familiarize yourself with suggestions and best practices from these credible organizations and continue to practice good hygiene.
Click the links below to stay up to date with the latest from each agency:
If you are feeling ill and your employer's medical plans have a virtual visit option, I encourage you to utilize that feature. They are equipped to diagnose you virtually and doing so could prevent further spread to others.
Employer Leave Policies: Please note, depending on the size (# of employees) and state, policies and federal regulations may vary.
If you are unfamiliar with your company's leave policy, I would encourage you to talk to your supervisor and/or HR representative to share that information with you. Most policies are separated into a few different categories:
1. Vacation Time
2. Personal Time
3. Sick Time
4. Personal Leave
5. Bereavement Leave
6. Federal Leave Time (FMLA, Military Leave)
7. Short Term Disability (STD)
8. Long Term Disability (LTD)
The examples of leave above usually have contingencies attached to them. This means, that you need to meet some sort of criteria in order to be eligible for a particular leave category. (EXAMPLE: Work for at least 6 months and average more than 30 hours per week).
Employers use their discretion when instructing employees on how to use their available time and state and federal policies usually have little to do with the deployment of that communication (unless it directly violates that state or federal law - confusing I know).
This means that your employer can require you to use all available time off from any PTO banks you have before initiating an employer-paid leave option (if offered/available).
However, with the recent decline of the congregating workforce and several companies mandating social distancing and work from home policies; how are companies covering the leave and pay of workers who can't "work from home" and who have exhausted their vacation, personal, or sick time and didn't opt-in or qualify for STD or LTD (which are medically tied)? How do you ensure employees have a job to return to, especially for those who don't yet qualify for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)?
There is good news on the horizon...
On March 11th, Congress introduced (not yet passed) the H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
"This bill responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers." - www.congress.gov
Within the proposed bill are several provisions that speak to many of our financial concerns:
1. Establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak.
2. Expand unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims.
3. Require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees.
4. Establish requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers.
6. Treat personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protection.
7. Temporarily increase the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).
In addition to the above, the bill also modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to do the following:
1. Alllow certain waivers to requirements for the school meal programs
2. Suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program).
3. Allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.
Fortunately, there are several school districts and even local restaurants here in Upstate SC (I'm sure in other states as well) that are providing free meals to students but it's nice to know that the above is gearing up if/when this generosity comes to end.
That's a lot of information to digest and news changes what feels like by the minute. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is a living, breathing bill - so keep your eyes out for changes that could affect you and your family.
Don't forget to breathe, we're all in this together!