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Paid Sick Leave and Public Health Emergency Leave: Critical Protections for Workers During a “Tripledemic”

States like Colorado and Oregon provide strong examples of how paid and unpaid sick leave laws can provide necessary support to workers and their families during public health emergencies.
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Workers across the country are experiencing rising levels of COVID-19 in their communities. This current surge in COVID-19 cases comes at a time when cases of other contagious illnesses, including the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (“RSV”), are also on the rise. Access to paid sick leave protections for working families is all the more critical during what is being called a “tripledemic.” 

As we’ve previously shared on our blog, workers who work in any of the 34 jurisdictions throughout the country with paid sick time laws in effect may have the right to earn paid sick time. Workers covered by the sick time laws in these states, counties, and cities are likely able to use their paid sick time if they or their family members (such as a parent or child) are sick with the flu, RSV, COVID-19, have a bad cold, or are being vaccinated against the flu or COVID-19.

However, states such as Colorado and Oregon are going further in response to RSV and/or flu by providing more specific public health emergency leave protections. In Colorado, the majority of workers are covered by the state’s paid sick leave law which, in addition to providing workers with earned paid sick time, also provides supplemental paid time off for declared public health emergencies. Colorado’s statewide public health emergency (“PHE”) that has been in effect for COVID-19 was expanded on November 11th to include flu, RSV, and similar respiratory illnesses. The expansion of the PHE to include flu, RSV, and similar respiratory illnesses means that workers in Colorado can now use their supplemental PHE leave for personal and family care and illness prevention needs related to these illnesses–and not just for COVID-19. Covered reasons to use PHE leave under the Colorado law include, the need to address a worker’s own symptoms of these illnesses, to quarantine or isolate after an exposure, to get tested or seek treatment for these conditions, to get vaccinated, boosted, or a flu shot and to deal with any related side effects, and for family care needs related to these illnesses. In addition, Colorado workers can use PHE leave if they are unable to work due to a health condition that may increase susceptibility to the risk of COVID-19, flu, RSV or similar respiratory illness. (See here for more know-your-rights information about paid leave in Colorado!)

Recently, Oregon has also declared a public health emergency due to the serious rise in cases and hospitalizations of flu and RSV, particularly in children. Similar to Colorado, many workers in Oregon are covered by the State’s paid sick leave law, which can be used to treat and deal with flu, RSV, and related illnesses. However, Oregon issued a new PHE declaration in November that means workers in businesses with at least 25 employees will have added protections under the State’s unpaid family and medical leave law, the Oregon Family Leave Act (“OFLA”). Workers covered by OFLA can take unpaid but job-protected time off work to care for themselves and their family members. Outside of a PHE, a worker must have worked an average of 25 hours per week for 180 days to be covered by OFLA. However, during a declared PHE, a worker needs only to have worked at least 25 hours per week for the 30 days prior to leave to take protected OFLA leave. This is good news for workers in Oregon during the current PHE, since it means they can qualify for this unpaid, but job-protected leave sooner after starting a new job. Furthermore, workers eligible for OFLA are able to take job-protected family and medical leave if a child’s school or childcare provider is closed due to the statewide public health emergency, or respiratory viruses in this case. For more on OFLA, see here, and for additional information about your workplace rights in Oregon, see here.

Colorado and Oregon provide strong examples of how paid and unpaid leave laws can provide necessary support to workers and their families during life’s most critical moments, particularly during public health emergencies. A Better Balance will continue to work toward ensuring that all workers throughout the country are able to take time off work to care for themselves and their family members, without risking a job or financial security. As illnesses such as COVID-19, flu, and RSV continue to impact our communities and workplaces, it is also important for everyone to understand their paid leave rights. For more information about your paid sick time rights, visit our Workplace Rights Hub or contact A Better Balance’s free and confidential legal helpline.

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