To say that the current COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our daily lives is an understatement! It caught us all off-guard. But then, how do you prepare for something that you are not aware of?
This applies to the ADA as well. At the onset of the pandemic, the ADA Center received many calls, particularly in the area of employment. Since this is a first, some answers were difficult to come by on how the ADA might apply. For the most part, the ADA would cover an employee with a disability in a covered workplace. By that, the ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee to be able to perform their job. What it does not mean is that it doesn’t automatically require an employer to allow a high-risk employee to work from home during the pandemic. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has encouraged employers to try and accommodate as much as possible, the basic rules of the ADA still apply. Rules can be relaxed during these exceptional times, but it is not a given that it must be done. At least under the ADA.
But the enforcing agencies have been hard at work during this pandemic. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has determined that an employer violated the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, enacted because of the current times. Here is the April 23rd press release:
Tucson, Arizona, Company to Pay Back Wages After Denying Paid Sick Leave to Worker Whose Doctor Ordered Coronavirus Quarantine
After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Bear Creek Electrical – an electrical company based in Tucson, Arizona – will pay one employee $1,600 for refusing to provide him sick leave under the newly passed Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act after health care providers ordered him to self-quarantine with potential coronavirus symptoms.
WHD investigators found that Bear Creek Electrical failed to pay the employee for what qualified as paid sick leave covering the hours he spent at home after the company received documentation of his doctor’s instructions to self-quarantine. The employer will pay the employee’s full wages of $20 an hour for 80 hours of leave. The affected worker disclosed to WHD that he lives paycheck to paycheck and is depending on this payment to continue supporting his wife and children, to cover rent, and to pay other bills. Bear Creek Electrical also agreed to future compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which went into effect on April 1, 2020.
“This case should serve as a signal to others that the U.S. Department of Labor is working to protect employee rights during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Wage and Hour District Director Eric Murray in Phoenix, Arizona. “We encourage employers and employees to call us for assistance to improve their understanding of new labor standards under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and use our educational online tools to avoid violations like those found in this investigation.”
The FFCRA helps the U.S. combat and defeat the workplace effects of the coronavirus by giving tax credits to all American businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees with paid leave for the employee’s own health needs, or to care for family members. The law enables employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus.
So, while the ADA may be limited in this situation, there could be other remedies. Employers and employees both need to be aware of the rapidly changing laws – as well as benefits – that are occurring during COVID-19.
Check out these other resources on the pandemic. They are constantly being updated with new information:
Laws enforced by WHD, call 866-4US-WAGE, or visit www.dol.gov/agencies/whd
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention