Rights for Quarantined Essential Workers

Ensuring that essential workers do not have to go to work sick is crucial to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are options to consider for essential workers who need to quarantine due to COVID-19.

Massachusetts Earned Sick Time

Most employees in Massachusetts have the right to earn up to 40 hours of job protected sick leave per year at the rate of at least 1 hour per every 30 hours worked. If your employer has 11 or more employees, this sick leave must be paid. Employers can have a general paid time off policy, but employees must have the right to earn up to 40 hours that is treated as sick time.

The Attorney General's Office has issued guidance stating that if a public health official or health care provider recommends that you quarantine, that is an acceptable use of earned sick time. Employees may choose to save their earned sick time for later use and receive Unemployment Insurance first, if eligible.

If you are being denied access to earned sick time by your employer, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division.

Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML)

The Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) program provides temporary income replacement to eligible workers who are welcoming a new child into their family, are struck by a serious illness or injury, need to take care of an ill or ailing relative, and for certain military considerations. PFML is funded through a Massachusetts tax, and is separate from both the federally mandated benefits offered by the Family Medical Leave Act (see below) and from leave benefits that may be offered by your employer. The Department of Family and Medical Leave oversees the PFML program. Read this guide to learn more about PFML.

Unemployment Insurance

The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) may pay unemployment benefits to a worker who is quarantined by a health official or medical professional, or who leaves employment due to a reasonable risk of infection or to care for a family member. You do not need to supply medical documentation and only need to be available for work when and as able. More information is available in guidance provided by DUA.

According to the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), an interruption in your previously approved Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits may be the result of an identity issue or fraud hold on your claim.  If your PUA benefits have stopped unexpectedly, you should log into your Pandemic Unemployment online account and submit/attach two forms of identification to your claim.   You must submit both at the same time.  The documents must be valid, clear, legible, and unaltered and you must provide a picture of both the front and the back of each document.  If you have any questions about this process, you should contact the DUA call center at (877) 626-6800.  The documents that DUA will accept are:

  1. A government-issued document that has your Social Security Number on it, like your W-2 or Form 1099.  Typically this would be your Social Security card.  If you do not have your original Social Security card, you can provide another government-issued document that has your name and your full Social Security card number on it.  Alternatively, you can apply to the Social Security Administration for a replacement Social Security card at https://ssa.gov/ssnumber/
  2. Your Driver’s License, State ID, passport, or some other government-issued documentation that includes an official photograph of you, your name, and date of birth. If you do not have one of these documents, and you are under eighteen years old, a copy of your High School identification with your photograph will be sufficient.  If the government-issued documents do not match the address used to file the claim, it is recommended that you provide a current bill or another document verifying your address.  Documents with an expiration date on or after 3/8/2020 will be accepted.  Documents with an expiration date of prior to 3/8/2020 will not be accepted.

Workers' Compensation

Almost all employees are covered by Workers’ Compensation insurance, overseen by the Department of Industrial Accidents. If you contract COVID-19 due to a work-related reason, you could be eligible for workers’ compensation. If you qualify, you can receive payments to partially replace your paycheck and for medical care. In most cases, you cannot claim both workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits.

Short-Term Disability

Massachusetts does not have a state disability benefits program. However, your employer may offer short-term disability insurance as a benefit. You should check with your human resources department to find out whether your employer offers this as a benefit. If so, you may be able to access this benefit if you cannot work due to COVID-19.

Federal Family Medical Leave (FMLA)

If you cannot work due to COVID-19 or because you are caring for a family member with COVID-19, you may be eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under FMLA, covered employers must provide their employees with job-protected, unpaid leave. For more information on whether you qualify, please visit the US Department of Labor’s FAQs on FMLA. If you qualify for FMLA, you are entitled to the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms as before you took the leave.

Reasonable Accommodation

If you have a disability that puts you at higher risk for complications of COVID-19 you may request a reasonable accommodation, such as the ability to telework. For more information visit the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Resources. If you have been denied a reasonable accommodation request, please contact the Civil Rights Division at the Attorney General’s Office.

Paid Time Off Banks

Generally, employers have a right to determine when employees can take vacation time or other PTO (excluding sick leave) based on business need. An employer can require a draw down on paid vacation and personal leave when an employee is absent from work to ensure an employee is still paid during the absence. However, employees are encouraged to explore the options listed above as alternatives to a PTO draw-down to ensure they have paid leave time available to them after the COVID-19 public health crisis subsides.

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