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Editor's Note: This FAQ was originally published by A Better Balance. We're publishing this in two posts on the MomsRising blog; you can read the original in its entirety on the website of A Better Balance here.


I work for the federal government—can I use emergency paid sick time?

It depends. Most federal employees may be able to use emergency paid sick time. However, most federal employees, including those who are covered by Title II of the FMLA, may not be eligible to use emergency family leave. In addition, currently, the CARES Act allows the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to exclude for good cause certain federal employees, including Executive branch employees, from using emergency paid sick time or family leave. You can find specific guidelines on eligibility here. State and local employees may also be covered as a public agency under this law. The Department of Labor will provide further guidance in the future.

My state or locality has issued an order (like a shelter in place or stay at home order) preventing me from going into work. Can I use emergency sick leave?

Maybe. The FFCRA’s emergency paid sick time provision could apply in instances where you are not able to work because of a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to the coronavirus. We are awaiting further guidance from the Department of Labor.

I was laid off because of the coronavirus. What should I do next?

You may want to search for information provided by your state about applying for unemployment insurance (see below). However, you should also keep in mind that it is illegal for your employer to fire you or otherwise retaliate against you because you sought to exercise your right to emergency paid sick time or family leave under this law (see below).

Am I eligible for emergency paid sick or family leave if I work for a health care provider or emergency responder?  

Maybe. The Secretary of Labor may issue rules that exclude your employer from the emergency paid sick time or family leave requirements. Also, your employer may elect to exclude you from receiving emergency sick time or family leave if you work for a health care provider or emergency responder.

Are there any exceptions for employees of small businesses?

In some cases, yes. The Secretary of Labor may issue rules that exempt businesses with less than 50 employees from providing emergency paid sick time for school/childcare closures or family leave for school/childcare closures, or when childcare is unavailable, due to the coronavirus, if doing so would jeopardize the business’s viability.

Can I get paid emergency sick or family leave if I only work part-time?

Yes. Part-time workers will be paid emergency sick time for the number of hours they work on average over a two-week period.

Part-time workers or workers who have irregular schedules may be paid emergency family leave based on the average number of hours worked within a six-month period prior to taking emergency leave. If you have not worked over this six-month period, then you may be paid emergency family leave at a rate of the reasonable expectation at hiring of the average number of hours the employee would normally be scheduled to work.

Is there a waiting period before I can use this leave?

The effective date of this law is April 1, 2020. Afterwards it will be available immediately for covered employees who have absences related to coronavirus. 

Can I lose my job because I’m taking eligible leave under this federal law to care for myself or someone else?  

Generally, no. You are protected against retaliation, including job loss, discipline, and/or discrimination for using your emergency paid sick time or your emergency paid family leave. If you use emergency paid family leave, then your employer must restore you to your job position or to an equivalent position with equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms/conditions of employment. There is a limited exception to the right to be reinstated, but not to the protection against retaliation, for workplaces with less than 25 employees. See here for more information.

What do I have to do to use emergency paid sick time?

As of April 1, 2020, emergency paid sick time is available for immediate use by the employee, regardless of how long you have worked at the place of employment. Your employer can’t force you to use your PTO or accrued annual leave before using any emergency sick time. Also, your employer can’t require you to find a replacement to cover the hours you are using leave.

What protections are available if I am self-employed (such as a freelancer or independent contractor)?

You may be eligible for a tax credit in an amount equal to 100% of a “sick leave equivalent amount” (or 67% for the family care provisions, where only 2/3 of compensation is available) or “family leave equivalent amount” based on days when you were unable to perform work for the reasons outlined above, up to certain caps and other conditions. However, you should know that businesses sometimes call people independent contractors who are actually employees under the law.

You also may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) under the CARES Act. See below for more information. 

What protections are available that provide unemployment benefits?

The CARES Act includes several provisions dealing with unemployment benefits that will be paid for by the federal government:

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PUEC): Subject to certain requirements, workers can receive up to 13 weeks of additional benefits under their state unemployment insurance program after exhausting their regular unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Subject to certain requirements, workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance will be eligible for special benefits for up to 39 weeks (counting any weeks that the worker received regular or PUEC unemployment benefits). These benefits will cover workers who are unable to work for one of several specific coronavirus related reasons. PUA will also provide benefits to those who are unemployed or cannot find work and do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance because they are self-employed, seeking part-time work (in some states), lack sufficient work history, or otherwise do not qualify. These benefits will cover the period from January 27, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and can be paid retroactively (although the additional $600 a week under PUC is not available for any workers until March 27).
  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC): Workers receiving either regular unemployment insurance (including PUEC) or PUA can receive an additional $600 per week in addition to their regular benefit amount from March 27, 2020 until July 31, 2020.

It is important to keep in mind that states which waive their one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits will be reimbursed by the federal government for benefits and administrative costs during that period.

I have more questions. Where can I get free and confidential information about my rights?

If you have a problem or want more information about your rights, call A Better Balance’s free and confidential helpline at 1-833-NEED-ABB (633-3222).

Please note that this FAQ does not represent an exhaustive overview of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act described, and it does not constitute legal advice. It is possible that additional provisions not described in this fact sheet may apply to a worker’s specific circumstances or category of employment. Please see this fact sheet for even more details on the law.

Download printable resource here.

Read Part 1 of this FAQ here on our blog.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!