This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and resources for people losing work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many people are working from home as a result of coronavirus, which is a good thing, overall, though it does come with challenges. There are millions of people, however, including those in the childcare and service industries who can’t just plug in their laptop and work from their couch. In an already anxious time, the threat of lost wages can be incredibly stressful. So how do you get help if your job is affected by coronavirus (especially if you can't take time off)?
Whether you're worried about permanently losing your job as a result of the pandemic or temporarily missing out on your regular paycheck, it can be difficult to know where to look for answers (particularly because so much of the relevant information you need varies from state to state). One place to start, no matter which state you live in, is the U.S. Department of Labor website. The Wage and Hour Division has answers to common questions asked by employees in the face of pandemics and other public health emergencies, as well as their "effects on wages and hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act and job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act."
Read on for more expert advice on what to do if your job is affected by the coronavirus pandemic, bearing in mind that circumstances are changing rapidly.
What If I Am Currently Sick With Covid-19 Or Am Caring For An Ill Family Member?
If you're ill, you may be eligible for unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act, Mason says, or through the FMLA if you're caring for a sick family member. “These laws don’t provide pay, but can protect someone from being fired or losing their health insurance if they experience a serious illness, caregiving need or work-limiting disability,” she adds. In some states, like California, you could be eligible for paid family leave if you're "providing care for an ill or quarantined family member," according to The Sacramento Bee.
What Happens If Companies Do Not Give Workers The Option To Work From Home?
It’s important to remember that even if you can work from home, the fact that others do not have this option impacts everyone. (Only 12 % of those who didn’t attend college work from home, The New York Times reported.) As you may expect, evidence supports that paid sick leave reduces the spread of illness, and for a virus as contagious as COVID-19, this is essential.
“It’s very clear: When people don’t have access to sick leave, they go to work sick and spread diseases,” Nicolas Ziebarth, associate professor of economics at Cornell University and author of the aforementioned study, told The New York Times. I also spoke to Ziebarth, who told Romper that “if employers do not provide paid sick leave, workers are more likely to come to work. This includes workers who are sick; and especially workers with mild (coronavirus) symptoms who may not know that they are sick and are dependent on their paycheck.”
Hopefully, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act will help to protect these workers (assuming it comes to pass). “However, without clear policies that incorporate as many workers as possible, the risk is higher that workers go to work and spread contagious diseases,” Ziebarth says. “Not every worker can work from home and not every worker can afford to lose paychecks.”
Those most likely to be facing the difficult choice of whether to lose wages or go to a work feeling sick or knowing they may be exposed to illness “are people of color, especially women, who due to occupational segregation and discrimination make up a disproportionate share of workers in jobs with low wages and few benefits. That’s why we are fighting so hard to ensure all working people have paid sick days and paid leave,” Mason tells Romper.
And to make matters more complicated, those who fall in lower income brackets are far less likely to have health insurance, meaning if they do get sick, it's difficult and expensive to receive treatment (say, if they needed a ventilator).
“Very quickly, [coronavirus is] going to circulate a lot faster in the poorer communities than the wealthiest ones,” Dr. James Hadler, Connecticut’s former state epidemiologist, told The New York Times.
What If I'm Feeling Anxious & Scared About Losing Wages?
In addition to the measurable financial losses, lost wages and the fear of going to work can have major mental health ramifications. “It’s normal to be feeling anxious if your income is impacted by the coronavirus response. One of the things that is anxiety-provoking is that we don't know how long our communities or jobs are going to be impacted by containment efforts,” Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, a maternal mental health specialist, tells Romper. The unpredictability of it all can cause feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, she adds.
“My recommendation is to stay informed about financial resources and funds available to you in your state. There are new initiatives and efforts being announced every day by local, state, and federal entities, so staying informed will help you to access any help available to you,” she says.
It may be helpful to talk to others who are in a similar situation and can relate to how you feel, and Brunner adds that it’s a good idea to lean on your community whenever possible. You may be surprised by how people (like your landlord) are willing to apply leniency during this unprecedented time.
If you feel comfortable doing so, “you can ask your employer to consider providing sick leave and adapting workplace policies to ensure employees’ safety. At the end of the day, it’s in their interest, too, to reduce the spread of contagious illness,” Mason tells Romper.
How Can I Help, Even If My Job Isn't Personally Affected?
If you’re reading this while you work from home, there are ways you can help those in your community who aren’t able to take time off or work remotely. Consider buying digital gift cards from local stores and restaurants, which can help businesses continue to pay their employees. This is especially important now that cities like New York and Los Angeles have made the decision to close restaurants (delivery and takeout is still allowed), bars, and theatres. Many exercise studios are offering virtual classes for a fee. You could try "no-contact" delivery options for food, or buying books from local authors who've had to cancel their tours. Remember, we’re all in this together, even if it’s from a safe social distance.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all our Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here on this page, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, a maternal mental health specialist
Nicolas Ziebarth, associate professor of economics at Cornell University
Pichler S, Wen K, Zieberth N, et al. (2020). Positive Health Externalities of Mandating Paid Sick Leave. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336832189_Positive_Health_Externalities_of_Mandating_Paid_Sick_Leave