Ever since a few seafood wholesalers in Wuhan, China began contracting pneumonia in mid-December of 2019, a new strain of coronavirus has snowballed across the region and into the global community.
As of March 3, nine U.S. deaths are among more than 3,000 reported worldwide. The culprit is COVID-19, a new coronavirus strain closely related to the likes of MERS and SARS. Also like these viruses, this new coronavirus attacks the respiratory system and can lead to conditions such as pneumonia, organ failure, and death.
These serious consequences paired with COVID-19’s highly infectious nature have caused employees to wonder if their jobs are secure if they become quarantined for the disease. Some states explicitly protect employees in quarantine from termination or allow them to seek compensation from the state for a portion of their lost wages, but Florida is not among them.
Recently, passengers on a cruise ship were quarantined for nearly a month where more than 700 cases of coronavirus originated. When passengers disembarked, many spent an additional two weeks in quarantine at university medical centers and air force bases in the U.S. One would hope in this situation that employers would understand why their employees haven’t reported back to work, but would workers be protected by law if they live in Florida?
Quarantined Employees May Be Protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act
Regardless of Florida’s lack of legislation to explicitly protect employees in quarantine, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can safeguard their employment. Under FMLA, qualified employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs without fear of losing them.
Typically, employees invoke their FMLA rights for pregnancies, childbirth and caring for newborns, or caring for seriously ill relatives. The legislation, however, also lets employees take leave to care for their own serious illnesses.
In a case where an employee is quarantined for a suspected coronavirus infection, or becomes ill from it, it’s possible they can cite their FMLA rights to protect their jobs.
Protection Is Not Likely under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination – such as employment termination – against employees with qualified disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for such employees.
If you suffered serious symptoms as a result of the coronavirus while in quarantine, you will likely not meet the requirements of having an ADA-protected disability because such symptoms are transitory and would not constitute a bonafide “disability.” This is because the ADA only protects people with actual long-term qualified disabilities - the coronavirus, while deadly in some situations, has not been proven to have any long-term effects on victims yet other than flu-like symptoms.
Under the ADA, your employer could be required to make reasonable accommodations to your work duties if you were well enough to work remotely or perform other tasks during their quarantine. However, your job may not be protected in Florida from termination if you are in quarantine and you are unable to comply with an employer’s reasonable accommodation.