Essential workplaces have continued to operate, almost uninterrupted, since the pandemic situation emerged. While many have taken extra precautions or transitioned to remote work as much as possible, there’s still a heightened risk of COVID-19 exposure for essential workers.
This raises a question for both employers and employees. What happens when they get sick? Are they eligible for paid sick leave, or are they entitled to make a claim for workers’ compensation?
Sick Leave as First Line of Defense
If you offer paid sick days to your employees, and the individual(s) in question have unused time, sick leave is likely the best avenue for both you and the employee.
That’s because they already have this time, which they’re entitled to, and you’ve already set money aside for it. It gives the employee easy access to their earned paid time off. Offering the paid time off helps to ensure they’ll follow the advice of local authorities and quarantine if they happen to test positive.
Some employers may consider making their sick leave policies more flexible, to extend to more situations. This could include allowing employees to use their sick days to care for a relative or if they need to quarantine due to someone in their household becoming ill. Other employers will want employees to use this time only if the employee themselves is sick.
Federal and State Mandated Leaves
Employers will also want to ensure they have updated their policies to be in line with revisions laid out in state and local legislation. Many of these changes are directed at sick leaves and caregiving arrangements. You could be required by law to provide off.
These laws exist at both the federal and state level, so what you’re required to do may change by state of operation.
What about Workers’ Compensation?
Some experts have pointed out that depending on the circumstances, an employee becoming ill in the workplace, in the course and scope of their regular duties, could be a workers’ compensation issue.
The argument centers around the possibility that the employee may have been exposed to a heightened risk during the course and scope of their duties. If the employee becomes ill, this could count as an “occupational illness.”
In such instances, employees may wish to file workers’ compensation claims, if they’re eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in your area.
They can also use any available sick leave. However, if an employee doesn’t have access to sick leave of some sort, then a workers’ compensation claim may be the only way for them to replace lost wages, though each state has mandatory “waiting periods” for lost wage benefits.
Does Sick Leave Cancel out Workers’ Compensation?
If an employee takes sick leave, they may still pursue a workers’ compensation claim. There are a few reasons for this.
First, employers cannot require that an employee use their sick leave if there is an expectation that a worker’s compensation claim may exist. Some employees may elect to pursue a claim, since workers’ compensation will cover medical expenses in addition to lost wage benefits.
Employers who offer benefits give employees another option. Again, accessing those benefits might be more immediate and help the employee more in the short term.
What an employee pursues depends somewhat on what options are available to them. Extending paid sick leave, benefits, and providing information about options may help you protect your employees and ensure they get the assistance they need right now.