The Coronavirus pandemic is forcing Alabama workplaces to adapt to new ways of doing business and unfortunately raising the specter of widespread unemployment claims. Unemployment may be available to employees who become unemployed due to no fault of their own. An employee working reduced hours because of COVID-19 may be eligible in some instances.
Alabama Department of Labor Announced Revised Unemployment Rules
Alabama unemployment benefits are available to individuals who become unemployed through no fault of their own and are paid for by unemployment insurance taxes paid by the employer.
An employee who is sick from COVID-19, or who is in mandatory quarantine because of COVID-19, or who is caring for an immediate family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, likely will be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, an employee with no symptoms but who self-quarantines because of COVID-19 concerns, will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
On March 20th, the Alabama Department of Labor announced they would temporarily waive charges against employers who file unemployment compensation claims on behalf of their employees due to COVID-19 issues. Employers filing for benefits on behalf of their employees will now be asked if it is related to COVID-19. The waiver means that an employer’s experience rating will not be impacted and is in place until further notice.
Employers who are able to file on behalf of their employees are encouraged by the Alabama Department of Labor to do so. More information regarding filing unemployment claims is available here.
CDC Offers Guidance for Businesses
The Center for Disease Control is offering guidance to employers to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers should maintain the confidentiality of employees confirmed to have the coronavirus in the same way they would maintain confidentiality for other medical conditions.
The CDC’s guidance encourages employers to reduce transmission among employees by actively encouraging sick employees to stay home, identifying where and how employees might be exposed, and separating sick employees. Regarding maintaining healthy business operations, the CDC recommends identifying a workplace coordinator, implementing flexible sick leave and supportive leave, assessing essential functions, having a plan for spikes in absences, establishing policies for social distancing.
The CDC also recommends maintaining a healthy work environment by improving building ventilation, supporting hand hygiene, performing routine cleanings, performing deep cleans after infected people have entered the workplace, utilizing videoconference and reducing or eliminating travel.
Congress Mandates Additional Paid Sick Leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Provisions
On Wednesday, March 18th, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which provides full-time employees with 10 days of paid sick leave for various coronavirus absences including mandatory quarantine, physician-ordered quarantine, COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, caring for a sick immediate family member, or substantially similar conditions. It was signed into law the next day on March 19th and takes effect April 3, 2020. The Department of Labor will provide a model notice by March 25th and Employers must conspicuously display the new notice. Employers who violate the FFCRA are subject to statutory fines and penalties. Employees must have been on the job for at least 30 days before availing themselves of the new paid leave.
The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees. This new period of paid leave must be provided by employers in addition to other established leave programs. Employers may cap leave at $511 per employee per day. Some employees who must stay home to take care of children may also be entitled to paid leave at 2/3 rate with a cap of $200 per day. The FFCRA is set to expire at the end of 2020.