Dear LAist: Will I Get Paid If Coronavirus Puts Me Out Of A Job?

With coronavirus causing massive disruption in the workplace, many people are wondering how they'll pay the bills if they can't work. (Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash)

UPDATED: 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

President Trump signed into law a coronavirus relief bill Wednesday night that requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid, virus-related sick leave and family leave.

The new law covers people who become infected with the coronavirus or have to care for someone who is, as well as people who are quarantined or whose place of work or children's school is closed due to coronavirus.


READ: The House Passed A Coronavirus Relief Act. Here's What It Could Do For You


Employers will receive a payroll tax credit to cover the paid sick leave.

Self-employed workers will also get a tax credit equivalent to qualified sick leave. Here's a summary of that provision:

The bill alsos give employees the right to take up to three months of leave from their jobs to adhere to a quarantine recommendation or requirement or to care for a family member or for a child whose school has been closed.

The New York Times editorial board called the exemption for employers with less than 500 workers "a giant hole" that affects about 54% of all Americans. And The Times said it also allows exemptions for companies with fewer than 50 employees, which account for another 36% or so of workers.

This original article, published at 5:23 p.m. continues below with updates from the House bill.

Events are canceled. Customers are avoiding restaurants and gyms. Travel has slowed to a crawl.

The spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is already leaving many people out of work.

For those who are still working, the big question is — what happens if I get sick? Can I still make my rent and pay my bills?

The reality is, some people won't have great options. But here's what they are:

IF I GET SICK AND/OR CAN'T GO TO WORK, WILL I STILL GET PAID?

It largely depends on whether you're an employee or an independent contractor.

EMPLOYEES

If you're an employee, the answer is likely yes, you are entitled to paid leave. But how much depends on factors like where you work and how generous your employer benefits are.

Sick leave

Under California law, pretty much all employees are entitled to at least three days of paid sick leave. That requirement is even higher under some local laws. For instance, the city of Los Angeles requires employers to provide at least six days of paid sick time.

Individual employers, of course, can offer more. Many allow their workers to accrue higher amounts of paid sick time, which, if you haven't used much thus far, might leave you with enough to weather a coronavirus-related leave.

Or not.

If you test positive for COVID-19, or may have been exposed to it, you'll probably be asked to quarantine yourselves for two weeks.

Sebastian Sanchez, an employment attorney with Bet Tzedek, said many workers don't get enough paid sick time to get through that quarantine period.

"It really puts a lot of workers at risk when they are unable to receive benefits that cover extensive absences that are required under a situation like this," he said.

Some lawmakers are trying to change that. (The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is now expected to be signed into law by President Trump.)

You should check with your company to see how many sick days you have in the bank.

Disability

If you have tested positive for coronavirus, or have been exposed to the virus, you can file for disability.

The state of California is encouraging workers affected by the coronavirus to do so.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has waived the normal one-week waiting period for disability insurance recipients to start receiving benefits. Although, if they approve your claim, the state says it still might be a few weeks before you get a check.

This will not cover your full salary. Benefits are typically 60% to 70% of your wages, depending on income.

Unemployment

If you get laid off or lose hours due to the coronavirus, you can also file for unemployment benefits. Gov. Newsom also suspended the one-week waiting period to collect on unemployment.

But, again, it'll probably take at least a few weeks to process your claim and issue you a check. Also, benefits top out at $450 per week.

Paid Family Leave

If you have to care for someone sickened by COVID-19 or quarantined, you can apply to the state for Paid Family Leave. Benefits are similar to disability insurance — 60% to 70% of your wages, depending on income.

Independent contractors may have a harder time weathering a coronavirus-related slowdown than employees. (David Wagner/KPCC)

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS

Bad news: you might be on your own.

If you're self-employed, or if you work in the gig economy, you don't get the protections that come with traditional employment, including paid sick time and unemployment benefits.

Companies like Uber have said they will compensate drivers who test positive for COVID-19, or if they're asked by a public health authority to quarantine for 14 days.

But Ken Jacobs with the UC Berkeley Labor Center said that policy is insufficient because right now most workers don't have access to testing.

"We are not in a place right now where we can afford to have people wait until they have a positive diagnosis," Jacobs said. "And that is what the companies are asking of these workers."

ARE LAWMAKERS DOING ANYTHING TO HELP WORKERS?

Congress is expected to pass an economic stimulus plan with the White House that includes paid sick leave for people who test positive for COVID-19 and for people who have to care for relatives with the virus.

At the local level, there's also talk at the L.A. City Council of imposing an eviction moratorium, so workers who miss paychecks due to the coronavirus won't end up losing their homes.

HOW PREPARED IS OUR WORKFORCE TO TACKLE THIS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS?

Labor experts say paid sick leave isn't just good for the workers themselves — it's good for overall public health. Studies have shown that paid sick leave policies can slow the spread of the seasonal flu.

But labor advocates say the coronavirus outbreak is revealing imbalances among workers when it comes to their ability to ride out a public health emergency.

On the one hand, highly paid office workers can likely work from home. Many have ample sick leave, and they may not interact much with the public on the job.

On the other hand, many low-wage workers — including those who work in restaurants, retail and other service jobs — can't work from home and may have minimal paid sick time.

They're also the ones most likely to spread the infection on the job because they interact with the public a lot more. Many may choose to work through an illness because they can't afford to take time off.


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