Ask The Lawyer, PAYING EMPLOYEES DURING CORONA VIRUS EMERGENCY
BOSS WANTS TO KNOW, DO WORKERS GET PAID LEAVE WHEN SENT HOME DUE TO VIRUS FEARS?
QUESTION: I run a diner. Because of fears around the Corona Virus, our Sunday business was down by more than 60 percent. I can’t afford to stay open with numbers like that; I told staff we will close for the next two weeks. Do I have any legal obligation to pay workers for some kind of leave, or unemployment? As far as I’m concerned, they are still my employees.
ANSWER: As of this morning, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that bars and restaurants will be temporarily shut down. If your workers meet other requirements of Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act, they would be covered. Section 4 of the 2018 law allows a worker to use paid leave “for closure of the eligible employee’s primary workplace by order of a public official due to a public health emergency.”
But, even if the reason for the closure might be covered under Michigan’s law, it’s a safe bet that the law does not apply to your workers. The law, which went into effect last March, applies only to private businesses with at least 50 employees, and then applies only to hourly (not salaried) workers who are employed at least 25 hours per week, who are not temporary or “variable hour” employees, and only if the workers have accrued sufficient time to cover the leave, among other requirements. While employers may allow more time off, the most they are required to grant is one hour per every 35 hours worked, for a maximum of 40 hours per year.
Workers may be eligible to apply for unemployment under Michigan law, but that will depend on whether the closure is viewed as a layoff.
The U.S. House passed an emergency bill Friday that would provide paid leave to workers who are infected by the virus, but he benefits would apply only to businesses with 500 or fewer employees, with a possible carve out for small businesses employing fewer than 50 people. The bill would not provide pay for healthy workers who are forced to stay home. The Senate takes up the bill today. It is anticipated that employers who pay employees to stay away will receive a tax credit, but the details are still to be worked out.
The bad news for you and your employees is that there is no pain-free fix to closures related to the disease, COVID-19, spread by the Coronavirus
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