COVID-19 Illness (or Exposure) in Preventing Work
1. Can my employer send me home if I have COVID-19 symptoms (or am exposed to COVID-19) at work?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recommends that employees who become sick with coronavirus symptoms (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately.
Additionally, as of November 30, 2020, under California’s Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (CalOSHA) Emergency Temporary Standards, employers must exclude employees from work who tested positive for COVID-19 or had COVID-19 exposure from the workplace.
2. Can my employer fire me if I do not show up to work because I tested positive for COVID-19 or a local or state authority ordered me to isolate?
Under CalOSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards, employers are required to continue and maintain your earnings, seniority, and all other rights and benefits, including the right to your job status, when the employer prevents you from entering the workplace because of a positive COVID-19 test or a COVID-19-related order to isolate issued by a local or state.
This requirement does not apply to any period of time during which you are unable to work for reasons other than protecting people at the workplace from possible COVID-19 transmission or where an employer demonstrates that your exposure to COVID-19 was not work-related. These standards are currently set to expire on May 29, 2021, with potential extensions of up to 90-days if reapproved.
If you believe your employer has violated this standard, please contact CalOSHA via 800-963-9424 or file a workplace safety complaint online here. If you feel as though your employer retaliated against you for exercising your rights under these emergency standards, please contact the California Labor Commissioner via 844-522-6734.
If your employer fires you for not coming to work in compliance with a government directive (government mandated isolation), you may have a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. You can find more information about wrongful termination here.
You may be entitled to job-protected, unpaid time off from work for up to 12 weeks under the California Family Rights Act. You likely qualify for this leave if all of the following statements apply to you:
- You work for an employer with at least 5 employees,
- You have worked there for at least a year, and
- You worked at least 1250 hours in the year before you take time off.
If you do not meet the eligibility requirements above, but work for an employer with at least 5 employees, your employer may be required to grant you a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. For more information about job-protected leave, see our factsheet Disability + My Job found here.
If you believe your employer retaliated against you for using job-protected leave, denied you leave, or refused to let you return to work after your leave, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Department (CRD). You can find more information about the CRD complaint process here.
If you are terminated, you can apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits with the EDD. Even if you quit, you may still be eligible to receive UI if you can establish both (1) that you had “good cause” to leave your work, which can include a reasonable, good faith fear for your safety, and (2) that you took reasonable steps to resolve the problem before leaving your work, like requesting leave or paid sick days. See Question 8 for more information about unemployment benefits.
See Question 4 for more information on how to get paid while you cannot work due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure.
3. I need time off work because of COVID-19 and I work in San Francisco. Are there additional protections available to me?
Yes. Whether or not you qualify for any job-protected leave or paid sick leave, if you work in San Francisco, your employer is not allowed to treat you worse because you are absent, unable to work, or request time off because you tested positive for COVID-19 or are isolating or quarantining because of COVID-19 symptoms or exposure. This means they cannot fire you, threaten to fire you, suspend you, discipline you, or take any negative action against you. To get this protection, be sure to tell your employer that the reason you are absent, unable to work, or requesting leave is because of your COVID-19 diagnosis, exposure, or symptoms.
Your employer must not allow you to return to the worksite if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Instead, they must let you return to work or start work when it is permitted by the Local Health Officer’s return-to-work guidance
Similarly, if you have applied for or accepted a new job with an employer, they cannot discriminate against you because you tested positive for COVID-19, are isolating or quarantining, or have previously isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.
4. I believe I got COVID-19 from my job and am unable to work because of it. What can I do?
If you are unable to do your usual job because you caught COVID-19 at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including temporary disability payments and medical treatment. Illness due to the common cold or flu is not considered work-related for the purposes of workers’ compensation, however, diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, hepatitis A, or COVID-19 are considered work-related if you are infected at work.
If you become sick or injured due to COVID-19, it is presumed your illness is compensable under workers’ compensation if you fall into one of these two categories: (1) you are a first responder or a healthcare worker, or (2) there is an “outbreak” at your workplace and your employer has 5 or more employees. This presumption was enacted on September 17, 2020 under SB 1159. The statute will remain in effect through January 1, 2023.
Your employer can still submit evidence to try to show that you did not contract COVID-19 at work, such as evidence of measures in place to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the workplace or evidence of your non-work-related risks of COVID-19 infection. However, your employer cannot retaliate against you because you filed a worker’s compensation claim.
To start the workers’ compensation process, you will need to file the claim form (DWC-1) with your employer within 30 days of discovering the illness. Your employer should provide you with the form after receiving notice of your illness, but the form can also be found here through the Division of Workers’ Compensation. For more information on whether you qualify for the workers compensation under the presumption, click here.
5. I have COVID-19 and cannot work because of my diagnosis. What can I do to receive income while I’m not working?
COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (COVID-19 SPSL) provides California employees who work for employers with 25 or more employees with 2 weeks of paid sick leave when they cannot work for reasons related to COVID-19. COVID-19 SPSL will be applied going back to January 1, 2021 and will expire on September 30, 2021. This means that if you already took leave in 2021 for COVID-19, you can ask your employer to pay you for the time you were out of work, up to 2 weeks, and they should pay you in your next pay period. The paid sick days under this bill are in addition to California Paid Sick Days and any paid sick leave you took in 2020. Visit this page for information on the acceptable COVID-19 related reasons to use COVID-19 SPSL.
If you do not qualify for COVID-19 SPSL, you are still entitled to use Paid Sick Days if you are missing work because of illness. Your employer should provide you with pay for the accrued sick days you have. Employers may limit the number of sick days an employee may use to as little as 3 days of pay in some places. (Some places like Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica require that employers provide more than 3 sick days.)
For more information, see the Labor Commissioner’s FAQs here.
You can find a sample paid sick leave request form on our Do-It-Yourself Guides page found here.
You may also be eligible for State Disability Insurance (SDI) to replace some of the income you lose while you are not working. You can apply for SDI from the Employment Development Department (EDD) online here. You will need to have been unable to do your normal work for at least 8 consecutive days, and a healthcare provider or local health official will need to certify your application. SDI benefits are usually 60% or 70% of your normal income, depending on your amount of your income. For more guidance on calculating your benefits amount, click here.
If you are disabled as a result of COVID-19, the EDD has waived the usual one-week waiting period during which you otherwise would not receive SDI benefits. Note: you cannot receive SDI and UI at the same time.
See Question 2 above for more information on protecting your job while you are unable to work because of COVID-19.
6. I recently recovered from COVID-19. When can I safely return to work?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), employers should not require workers to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work.
Worker may return to work if have quarantined and:
- At least 10 days* have passed since symptom onset;
- At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications; and
- Other symptoms have improved.
(Note: Exceptions apply based on severity)
7. Can my employer require that I receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
An employer with a mandatory vaccination policy must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Under the ADA, if you have a disability or medical condition that prevents you from taking the COVID-19 vaccine, then your employer must provide a “reasonable accommodation” or exempt you from the vaccination requirements altogether. If that is not possible, you can be blocked from coming to work but cannot “automatically” be terminated. To comply with the ADA, a mandatory vaccination policy must be job-related, consistent with business necessity or justified by a direct threat, and no more intrusive than necessary. For this reason, health care providers, schools, nursing homes, and other employers that work in high-risk environments may require employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Under Title VII, if you notify your employer of your sincerely held religious belief or practice that prevents you from taking the vaccine, then your employer must provide a reasonable accommodation and cannot require vaccination.
The ADA and Title VII are subject to your employer claiming an undue hardship, in which case your employer need not provide a reasonable accommodation and could require you to take the vaccine.
8. Can my employer ask me if I received the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Your employer can ask whether you received the COVID-19 vaccine.
9. Due to COVID-19, my employer cut my hours, forced me to take unpaid leave, or ended my employment. Do I qualify for unemployment?
You may file a claim for Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) benefits with the California Employment Development Department (“EDD”). To get benefits, you need to meet certain minimum requirements, including having sufficient past earnings, proof of identity, and work authorization. (If you are undocumented, see Question 12.) If EDD approves your claim, you can get between $40 and $450 each week, depending on your past earnings. UI benefits are available to workers who lost full-time and part-time work.
Any additional income you make while on UI, including from part-time work, will reduce your UI benefits but only partially until you earn 1.33 times your weekly UI benefit amount. In any week you earn at least 1.33 times your weekly benefit amount, you will not receive any UI benefits for that week.
In addition to your weekly UI benefit amount, the Continued Assistance Act and the American Rescue Plan Act provide Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (“FPUC”) in the amount of an additional $300 per week, also known as the “federal bump.” The FPUC benefit is available beginning after December 27, 2020 and ending on or before September 4, 2021. The $300 is automatically added to any week you receive unemployment benefits.
If you are unemployed as a result of COVID-19, the EDD has waived both the one-week waiting period during which you otherwise would not receive Unemployment Insurance benefits and the requirement to search for work.
For more information about UI benefits, including eligibility requirements and how to file a claim, please visit https://www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/ or call 800-300-5616 (English), 800-326-8937 (Spanish), 800-547-3506 (Cantonese), or 866-303-0706 (Mandarin). You can find EDD’s FAQ on COVID-19 and Unemployment here. You can find a chart summarizing unemployment benefits and extensions here.
10. Can my employer not pay me if I am sent home early from work or told not to come in for a scheduled shift?
It depends. If an employer sends you home because business is slow after you have reported for work, then yes, the employer is required to pay you half of your scheduled hours for that shift. For example, if you were scheduled for eight hours, you are owed four hours of pay (“Reporting Time Pay”). You are also entitled to Reporting Time Pay if you are required to call in soon (for example, two hours) before a scheduled shift and are told not to come in for that shift because business is slow.
If an employer sends you home or instructs you not to come in to work because the employer has been encouraged or ordered to close the business or limit operations by government authorities, or otherwise is reasonably concerned about the safety of employees, then the employer is not required to pay you Reporting Time Pay for your scheduled shift.
More information about Reporting Time Pay is available here.
11. What benefits can I receive if I lost work as an independent contractor because of COVID-19?
Self-employed individuals and independent contractors who do not qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI) are eligible for a new type of benefit called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). To access PUA workers should apply for unemployment benefits with the EDD, preferably online here.
Note: Many people who work as “independent contractors,” “freelancers,” and “gig workers” may qualify for benefits through regular UI (or State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave instead) because they have been misclassified as independent contractors or because they worked as employees before becoming self-employed. California law presumes workers are employees, and it is the up to the hiring entity to disprove that presumption.
People receiving unemployment benefits (whether through regular UI or PUA) are also eligible for the FPUC’s “federal bump” of an additional $300 per week from December 27, 2020 until September 4, 2021. With the new extension, PUA includes up to 86 weeks of benefits, beginning February 2, 2020. For more information on the FPUC, see Question 9. You can find a chart summarizing unemployment benefits and extensions here.
When applying for benefits online, applicants should provide the following information to the EDD to expedite the processing of their claims: name, phone number, and address/physical location of the companies they worked for; type of work performed; dates worked; gross earnings for UI or net earnings for PUA; and how earnings were paid (hourly, weekly, by contract, etc.). If applicants have access to records that allow them to report their quarterly earnings, they should report that information as well.
If true, applicants should answer “Yes” to the question: “Are you unemployed as a direct result of a recent disaster (for example: earthquake, flood, mudslide, or fire) in California?” and select “Public Health” as the “type of disaster.”
12. What if I am undocumented? How can I get income if I cannot work?
Unfortunately, undocumented workers cannot get Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Only individuals with legal authorization to work in the U.S. are eligible for UI or PUA (for example, asylees, refugees, DACA recipients, individuals with temporary protected status, lawful permanent residents (even if their green card has expired), and individuals who have been issued an Employment Authorization Document while their application for legal immigration status is pending). However, undocumented workers can get income from other programs, including:
- State Disability Insurance (SDI),
- Paid Family Leave (PFL),
- Workers’ Compensation, and
- Paid sick days.
For example, consider an undocumented worker who loses her job, begins to suffer from major depression as a result, and cannot work. Although she does not qualify for UI because she is undocumented, she may qualify for SDI. (Note: Workers need proof of their medical condition from a doctor to qualify for SDI.)
For more information about working while undocumented, please see our factsheet found here.
To assist undocumented workers who have lost their jobs or income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have also compiled this list of known relief funds for undocumented workers.
13. Because of COVID-19, my employer made assumptions about me or treated me differently than coworkers because I am from another country. What can I do?
An employer who treats you worse than other workers because of your race, national origin, or ethnic background is violating the law. This includes employer actions that single you out because of negative stereotypes.
More information about filing a charge for discrimination can be found here.
14. Is my employer required to provide me with reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19?
If you work for an employer with at least 5 employees and have a disability such as a compromised immune system, your employer may be required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation such as leave or telecommuting. You can find more information about reasonable accommodations here.
Having common cold or seasonal flu symptoms is not likely a disability. However, complications from COVID-19, such as pneumonia, or vulnerability to COVID-19 due to being immunocompromised might be a disability. If you want to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer, you must disclose that you have a disability. While employers can require medical documentation of a disability, employers cannot force employees to discuss a specific health condition or diagnosis.
If you have a disability that is known to your employer, they must engage in a timely, good-faith conversation with you (“interactive process”) to determine effective reasonable accommodations for you. You and your employer should explore changes that allow you to continue your job or take time off from work.
If you have an underlying health condition and your healthcare provider or a local health official certifies that you should not work, you can apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI) from the Employment Development Department (EDD). If your employer fires you for not coming to work, it will not affect your eligibility for SDI. See Question 5 for more information on SDI.
For information about how the federal government’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is interpreting employment laws relating to disability during the pandemic, please consult the Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act found here.
15. Can my employer ask me if I have a health condition (like a compromised immune system) that would be affected by COVID-19?
No. Your answer to that question is likely to disclose a disability. Therefore, the employer’s question is against the law.
16. If I have COVID-19, what can my employer tell others about my condition?
Employers are required to notify workers within one (1) business day of receiving notice of a potential exposure to COVID-19 (AB 685). Employers must provide this notice in a way that does not reveal any personal identifying information of the COVID-19 case.
Employers must notify local public health officials within 48 hours if the number of cases they have meets the state’s definition of an outbreak (AB 685).
At all times, however, your employer is required to keep all medical information about you private and confidential.
You can find more information about workplace privacy rights in our factsheet here.
Work & Family
17. A close family member of mine has COVID-19, and I need to stay home from work to take care of them. What can I do to receive income while I’m not working?
You may be eligible to receive Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) if you are missing work to care for a seriously ill parent, parent-in-law, child, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, grandparent or grandchild. PFL provides partial wage replacement for up to 8 weeks (increased from 6 weeks as of July 1, 2020), and PFL benefits are 60% or 70% of your wages, depending on your income. PFL is available to both full-time and part-time workers.
You can apply for PFL here through the Employment Development Department. You will need a healthcare provider or local healthcare official to certify your family member’s health condition.
COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (COVID-19 SPSL) also provides California employees who work for employers with 25 or more employees with 2 weeks of paid sick leave to care for a family member who is either subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19 or has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19. COVID-19 SPSL also covers you if you are caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 on the premises. See Question 5 for more information about COVID-19 SPSL.
For more information, visit the EDD website here.
18. Can I lose my job if I have to stay home to care for a family member who is seriously ill with COVID-19?
Your employer must provide you with up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off to care for a parent, spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild with a serious health condition if you meet these eligibility requirements:
- You work for an employer with at least 5 employees,
- You have worked there for at least a year, and
- You worked at least 1250 hours in the year before you take time off.
Be sure to inform your employer you are requesting caregiving leave under the California Family Rights Act. If you believe your employer retaliated against you for using job-protected leave as described above, refused to provide you with leave, or did not let you return to work at the end of your leave, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Department (CRD). More information about the CRD complaint process can be found here.
For more information, please see our COVID-19 + My Job factsheet found here.
19. My child’s day care or school is closed because of COVID-19. Can I take time off to care for my child? What can I do to receive income?
If your employer has 25 or more employees working at the same location in California, you can take job-protected time off up to 40 hours each year to address an emergency at your child’s day care or school. A closure because of COVID-19 qualifies as such an emergency. However, you must still notify your employer ahead of time that you intend to take this time off. This time can be unpaid, or you can apply paid time off from your employer. If your child is unable to go to school and needs your care because of a serious health condition, see Question 18 for more information.
Additionally, if you who work for an employer with 25 or more employees, COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (COVID-19 SPSL) provides you with 2 weeks of paid sick leave if you are caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 on the premises. Visit this page for more information about the acceptable COVID-19 related reasons to use COVID-19 SPSL. See also Question 5 for more information about COVID-19 SPSL.
Regardless of your employer’s size, you may also be eligible for Unemployment Insurance if you have exhausted all other care options but have to miss work to stay home with your child because of a school closure. You can find more information about applying for Unemployment Insurance here. You can find the latest information from the EDD about COVID-19 here. Paid Family Leave is not available for this reason, unless you need to provide care for a child with a serious health condition.
Health & Safety
20. Can my employer take my temperature before work?
Usually, it is illegal for an employer to measure your body temperature. However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance allowing employers to take employees’ temperatures to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For a summary of the EEOC’s guidance, please visit their website here.
21. I’m afraid of getting COVID-19, or I feel unsafe in my workplace because of COVID-19. Can I be fired if I don’t show up to work?
Yes. However, if you have a reasonable basis for not going to work, such as an occupational safety and health complaint against your employer for not providing a safe workplace, you may be protected.
Under CalOSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), employers must develop a COVID-19 Prevention Program. Under this program, employers are required to communicate to employees about the employer’s COVID-19 prevention procedures, correct COVID-19 hazards, social distance, use face coverings, provide COVID-19 training to employees, and exclude COVID-19 cases and exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk. For more information on CalOSHA’s ETS and what to do if your employer violates these standards, see Question 1.
Stricter health and safety standards apply to certain employees in workplaces with heightened exposure to aerosol transmissible diseases, such as healthcare facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, etc. CalOSHA has declared that COVID-19 is covered under the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard. Under ATD regulations, covered employers may be required to take various steps to minimize worker exposure (e.g., engineering and work practice controls, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, etc.)
If you reasonably believe your employer has violated health and safety standards, you should attempt to notify your employer about the health and safety concern and request that the employer resolve the safety issue. You should document your complaint. You may find a template complaint letter on our Do-It-Yourself Guides page found here.
You can find more information about workplace health and safety in our factsheet here.
For Additional Questions/Resources
22. Are there other benefits I can access at this time to help pay my bills and feed my family?
Yes. You may be able to access additional help from the government and private organizations if you have lost work or income because of the pandemic.
- To apply for CalFresh, California’s SNAP program, go to http://mycalfresh.org.
- If you need health coverage right away, you should apply for MediCal and see if you are eligible for assistance in getting private insurance at https://www.coveredca.com/apply/.
- California WIC helps working families and families with young children get healthy food. Go to https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CFH/DWICSN/Pages/Program-Landing1.aspx to learn more.
- To find a food bank near you, go to http://cafoodbanks.org/find-food-bank
You may also be able to learn about more resources in your area by dialing 311. For more information on possible benefits you can access, we recommend Western Center on Law & Poverty’s guide, available at https://wclp.org/covid-19-coronavirus-information-response-and-considerations/.
23. I have more questions. Where can I get free, high-quality legal information about my rights?
Our Workers’ Rights Clinic can provide you with a free confidential consultation regarding your legal rights related to work. Please be aware that there may be a strict timeline to file a complaint against your employer if you think they violated the law. You may call (415) 404-9093 to schedule a Clinic appointment. Please note that our services are limited to low-income workers. To learn more about Clinic services, visit our website here.