Since the COVID-19 Pandemic began last year, tens of millions of Americans have fallen sick with the disease. To help protect its workers and their families, the government has offered several benefits to federal workers who experience difficulties because of COVID-19.
If you’re one of the many federal employees with coronavirus, you’ve probably asked yourself, Do I get paid if I have COVID-19? The good news is that there is paid COVID-19 leave for federal workers who had the disease, been quarantined, or had to care for an ill family member.
Take a moment to learn more about whether you are eligible for federal COVID-19 leave.
Is There Federal COVID-19 Leave?
Yes. The latest effort to provide federal employees with leave began in March. At that time, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). ARPA included a provision that granted federal employees up to 15 weeks of emergency paid leave (EPL) under certain COVID-19-related circumstances.
As outlined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), employees can obtain COVID-19 leave if they meet one of eight qualifying circumstances.
Here are several of those circumstances:
- The employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;
- The employee is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or recovering after experiencing side effects from the vaccine;
- The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine order that is based on COVID-19;
- The employee received advice from a doctor or other health care provider to quarantine due to COVID-19;
- The employee is caring for a family member who is subject to a COVID-19 quarantine order; or
- The employee is caring for their child because the child’s school or place of care is not open due to COVID-19.
To receive the paid sick leave, the employee must be unable to work at their office and unable to work from home because of the qualifying circumstance. Also, federal agencies cannot force any employee to use other forms of paid leave before requesting EPL.
Limitations of Federal COVID-19 Leave Under the American Rescue Plan Act
Unlike regular paid sick leave, EPL has a monetary cap. An employee will receive 100% of their salary if that salary is less than $1,400 per week. EPL provides no compensation beyond that cap. Therefore, if you normally make $2,000 a week in your federal position, you’ll only receive $1,400 for each week you use EPL.
Also, there is a small window of time to use emergency paid leave. Employees can only use EPL between March 11 and September 30. 2021. Finally, the government set aside a limited amount of money—$570 million—to pay for emergency paid leave. If those funds run out before September 30, 2021, then you cannot receive EPL.
Who Processes EPL Claims?
After you request EPL from your employer, they’ll decide whether or not to accept your request. Assuming they accept your claim, they will forward it to OPM for reimbursement. However, it may take time for OPM to resolve your claim because it processes EPL claims on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s one reason why it’s important to request EPL sooner rather than later.
What If I Had COVID-19 in 2020?
You cannot request EPL if you had COVID-19 last year. Before passing ARPA, the government offered federal COVID-19 leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. After Congress passed the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, OPM released clarifying guidance for all federal agencies.
According to that guidance, EPSLA gave employees up to 80 hours of paid leave if they were in quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or caring for a family member. EPSLA’s paid sick leave equaled 100% of the employee’s regular pay if the employee was in quarantine or had COVID-19 symptoms. Unlike EPL, EPSLA’s COVID-19 leave did not have a pay cap.
So Do I Get Paid If I Have COVID?
Yes and no. There isn’t a law that gives COVID-19 payments specifically to federal employees. However, federal employees indirectly receive payments through EPL because it is paid leave.
Moreover, any federal employee who made less than a certain amount of money ($75,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a couple) received stimulus checks earlier this year.
Is Your Employer Giving You the Federal COVID-19 Leave that You Deserve?
Getting COVID-19 can be a devastating experience with long-lasting effects. Because of that, the new federal COVID-19 leave law grants you special rights for COVID-19-related situations. If your employer is denying you emergency paid leave or retaliating against you because of your sick leave request, they may be infringing on your rights.
At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wesing, PPLC., we work to help federal employees stand up for their rights. We have many years of experience assisting hundreds of federal employees with a huge range of federal employment problems.