Should My Employer Offer Me Extended Maternity Leave Due to COVID?

August 19, 2020

Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, doctors and researchers learn new things every day. The CDC reports that when compared to non-pregnant women, pregnant women have a higher risk of needing to be placed in the ICU or admitted into the hospital. More pregnant women need to be placed on a ventilator than non-pregnant women.

How high is the risk? By the third week of July, 12,969 pregnant women had tested positive for COVID and just over 27% of that number were hospitalized. If you’re pregnant, it’s cause for concern. You’re probably already stressed thinking about the delivery and what comes next, especially if this is your first child.

Adding COVID to your concerns just doesn’t seem fair. If you went into maternity leave early and stayed home, you’re pretty sure you could avoid contracting the virus. Does your employer have to offer extended maternity leave during the pandemic?

Understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Through the end of the year, the Department of Labor requires some employers to “provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded FMLA” for specific situations. The situations are:

  • Quarantining due to COVID-19 symptoms and waiting for the results of testing
  • Quarantining at the advice of a doctor or by government order
  • Needing to take time off due to child care issues after daycares or schools closed
  • Needing time off to take care of someone with the virus

If you qualify because you have signs of COVID or were told to stay home by your doctor or government order, you get two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave. It’s paid at your normal hourly wage.

If you’re caring for someone else, you get two weeks of pay at two-thirds of your usual hourly rate. The care would be for a child due to COVID or closures of daycares and schools or caring for someone else who is quarantining due to COVID. You may find that this part of the act helps you extend your pregnancy leave if you already have a child or children in daycare or school.

If you’ve been employed for a minimum of 30 calendar days and cannot work due to closed daycares or schools, you may qualify for up to 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of your normal hourly rate.

FFCRA provides up to $200 per day (maximum of $2,000) in extended sick leave pay if you need time off for a health issue related to COVID or per a doctor’s recommendation. If your leave is due to caring for someone else, there is a $200 per day (maximum of $10,000) benefit for emergency FMLA pay.

Workers in certain Californian cities (Los Angeles, Los Angeles County unincorporated areas, San Francisco, and San Jose) may qualify for Local Government Supplemental Paid Sick Leave due to COVID-19. The amount and coverage of wages vary.

You have to be unable to work remotely to qualify for this extended sick time pay through FFCRA. If it’s possible to work from your home due to the nature of your job duties, you cannot take the extended sick leave pay. You’ll still be working, but you’ll work from your home office instead of commuting into an office with other people.

How do you know if your employer qualifies for this additional coverage? They cannot have more than 499 employees. If they have 500 or more employees, they’re not covered. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are also exempt if the need for leave is due to closures of schools or daycares.

Given those rules, a pregnant woman would not qualify for extended sick pay unless her doctor orders her to stay home and self-quarantine. This could be possible if there are other factors such as gestational diabetes, a risk of pre-eclampsia, or worsened asthma during pregnancy. Ask your OB/GYN for input on how safe it is for you to continue working. If you’re healthy and having a normal pregnancy, it’s unlikely your doctor would give you a note if there haven’t been other cases of COVID in your office.

What If Your Employer Still Refuses?

The best thing you can do is to ask your company’s HR department or your supervisor. See if it’s possible to extend your maternity leave due to COVID. You may need a doctor’s note so have one ready. Your employer may share your concerns and be happy to extend your pregnancy leave with a mix of sick days, personal days, unpaid days off, and vacation time.

There may be an alternative arrangement that works for you. If you’re a bank teller and don’t want to be in front of clients all day, you might be able to transfer to a different area for now. You might be allowed to work from a private office answering phones, responding to emails, or watching social media accounts for questions and comments.

Do you know how many employees work at your place of employment? If it’s under 50, your employer doesn’t have to follow the rules outlined in FFCRA. The ruling there is that allowing people to take extended sick leave could impact the business. Make sure your employer isn’t exempt.

If you know they’re not exempt from the rules and you’re still not getting extended sick leave, even with a doctor’s note, talk to HR and ask why. If they refuse to explain the reason to you or you still don’t understand, talk to an attorney who specializes in employment law. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many rules at companies in a short amount of time, and your employer may simply not understand these changes. An attorney can help you negotiate extended sick leave and FFCRA with them.

Many business owners and employees didn’t expect the pandemic to go this long. It’s a difficult time for many, and you don’t need more stress and uncertainty during your pregnancy. If you need guidance regarding FFCRA and sick pay, call us. Shegerian Conniff is happy to answer your questions and help you understand your rights when you’re pregnant. Contact us for a free consultation.