We are here to respond to your needs and concerns as more COVID-19 cases are reported. Below you’ll find answers to common questions about COVID-19, formerly known as the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.
What is MSEA doing to address COVID-19 related issues with the Administration?
MSEA initially reached out to the State on March 2. Over the last several weeks, we have urged the State to close its offices for non-essential workers and send them home on admin leave, grant emergency sick leave and authorize telework for any and all employees who are able to do so. We have also encouraged the State pay for the new federal laws on paid sick leave and family medical leave relating to COVID-19 at employees’ full regular pay. We have talked regularly with Departments about planning, staffing needs, and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). We are strongly and repeatedly encouraging the State to be as transparent as possible in notifying employees of suspected or likely COVID-19 cases, including notifying employees of coworkers who are self-quarantined or
What leave time can I use for COVID-19?
Employees are allowed to use accrued sick leave for any absence relating to COVID-19, including absences relating to a need to self-isolate and/or quarantine for you or a member of your household, childcare needs due to school or childcare closures or actual illness and treatment. You may also use vacation, comp or personal time, though they may require preapproval. The federal government recently passed a bill that also provides 80 hours of paid sick leave, in addition to sick leave already provided by employers, to be used for certain COVID-19-related purposes. The federal law also provides up to 12 weeks of partially-paid FML for employees who need to care for a child under 18 years old due to a lack of school or childcare. Some employees are excluded from this coverage – we are currently
How do I take leave under the federal emergency sick leave?
You should inform your supervisor that you want to take the leave and the reason. There are six reasons that qualify:
- You are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine order related to COVID-19;
- You have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- You are experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- You are caring for an individual who is subject to the quarantines above;
- You are caring for your son or daughter if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to COVID–19 precautions; or
- You are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor. Depending on the reason, you may have to provide additional information, such as the name of the government entity that issued the quarantine order or the name of the health care provider who advised you to self-quarantine. If you are taking leave relating to a lack of child care or school, you must provide the name of your child, the name of the school or child care provider, as well as a statement that there is no other suitable person who can take care of your child.
Do I need a doctor’s note to take the federal emergency sick leave?
You should not need a doctor’s note. However, you will need to provide notice, according to typical notice procedures for sick leave, and depending on the reasons for the leave, you may need to provide additional documentation, such as the name of the government entity that issued the quarantine order or the name of the health care provider who advised you to self-quarantine. If you are taking leave relating to a lack of child care or school, you must provide the name of your child,
I’m a part-time employee, can I access the federal emergency sick leave? Do I get 80 hours too?
You are eligible to take the emergency sick leave, as long as you qualify under one of the 6 reasons (see above). However, the 80 hours requirement is prorated for part-time employees – you are eligible for the amount of hours you work, on average, over a 2-week period.
Do I have to use my regular sick or other leave before I can use the federal emergency leave?
No, you are not required to exhaust your accrued leave first. If you are told otherwise, please contact us.
I already have FML for another purpose and I’ve already taken some or all of it this year – can I still qualify for the expanded FML benefit?
Currently, the State is treating this as a new reason to qualify for FML, not an additional benefit. That may limit the time available to you to a total of 12 weeks.
If I take emergency sick leave or FML, does it affect my health insurance?
No, the State should continue to pay its share of your health insurance and your portion will be deducted from your paycheck as usual.
”What should I do if I feel my job is putting me at greater risk for exposure to COVID-19?
We have sent a demand to the State that all non-essential workers be allowed to take leave with pay. The State has indicated that it considers all State employees essential. However, the State has indicated that if you have an underlying condition that puts you in a higher risk category that you may be entitled to take leave or telework, if possible. You may also qualify for the emergency paid sick leave if a healthcare provider has advised you to self-quarantine due to concerns about COVID-19 (see above).
Do I have to use my leave time?
Yes, currently you must use some form of leave time if you do not want to report to work. If you do not wish to use your leave time, you may be able to request an unpaid leave and qualify for unemployment benefits. We are working on clarifying that process and whether or not you will be required to exhaust your available leave. This may not be an option for essential employees.
What if I don’t have sufficient leave time accrued to cover a period of prolonged absence?
You may be eligible for the federal emergency paid sick leave. If not, some, but not all, Departments have indicated that employees who take unpaid leave will not be penalized if they do so. In addition, you can request an unpaid leave, during which you may be able to qualify for unemployment benefits if the leave is related to a need to self-quarantine, care for a family member with COVID-19 or avoid exposure. The State has indicated that if you need to take a form of unpaid leave, the State will continue to pay its share of insurance premiums (but employees will be responsible for their share).
What are the State’s plans to contain exposure at my worksite?
The State has indicated that it intends to implement social distancing and follow other CDC guidelines. This includes limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people (although there is an exception for work-related gatherings), asking employees and others to maintain a 6 foot distance between people, washing hands frequently and frequently disinfecting surfaces such as doorknobs. Where necessary, the State is working to provide personal protective equipment in compliance with CDC guidelines. This may include additional cleaning products, hand sanitizer, gloves and/or masks. The State is also now recommending employees wear cloth face coverings (not surgical or N95 masks) and is working to provide those to employees.
I don’t think I have the PPE I need, what should I do?“]
First, contact your supervisor and request what you need. It’s possible that you may be able to do your tasks slightly differently so as to not require PPE, such as using a drop box instead of handling paperwork. If you still feel you need PPE that is not being provided to you, contact us here.
What happens if I get sick?
Under no circumstances should you report to work if you become ill, regardless of whether you have been tested for COVID-19. You should immediately self-isolate, call your health care provider and follow their instructions. If you believe you have COVID-19, you may wish to inform your coworkers as well, in the event that there is any possibility they may have been exposed.
What happens if someone in my household gets sick?
If a household member is sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should call your health care provider and follow their instructions. You are allowed to use sick leave for this time. You may wish to inform your coworkers as well, in the event that there is any possibility they may have been exposed.
If someone in my office gets COVID-19, does the State have to tell me?
The State has indicated that, within the bounds of confidentiality requirements, employees will be notified if another employee in the same office area has tested positive for COVID-19. Employees will not be given the name of the affected employee. In the event that that happens, the State will close the specific office area for cleaning and employees who have been exposed will be sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days, counted from the date of potential exposure. What is considered an “office area” for these purposes will likely be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on CDC guidelines. We have demanded that the State apply these procedures if an employee has not tested positive (or has not been tested) but has been directed to self-quarantine, by their doctor or by the State, or if an employee has been tested but is awaiting results. Currently the State has only committed to notifying employees in the event of a positive test. If you believe that you may have COVID-19 but have not had a positive test, you may inform MSEA and we can convey that information to your coworkers, if you choose. Click here to notify us.
What should I do if a coworker gets COVID-19?
If you believe you have been exposed or have had close contact with a coworker who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should inform your supervisor, contact your health care provider and follow their instructions. If your office area does not close but you are concerned about exposure, you may use leave time.
I don’t want to work from home – can the State make me?
The State can and has closed certain offices, some for short periods and others for the foreseeable future. If your office is closed, the State can order you not to come in. If you do not have the ability to work from home, you should discuss what options are available to you with your supervisor. If your job cannot be done remotely, you may be put on paid administrative leave. However, the State may also assign you to do other duties or assign work it believes you can complete remotely. If you do not want to work from home but the State has assigned you work that you are capable of completing, you may have to take leave.
I have accommodations in my worksite that I can’t recreate at home – what should I do?
You still have a right to accommodation under the ADA, but your accommodations may need to change due to the change in your working conditions. You may wish to speak to your healthcare provider and request temporary changes to your accommodations while working remotely.
Which MSEA represented classifications does the State consider essential/emergency workers?
The State has indicated that it considers all State employees essential. However, only some have been designated as “emergency responders,” including staff of correctional facilities, psychiatric institutions, MaineCDC, and DOL employees working on unemployment claims. We are seeking a more comprehensive list, which the State continues to refuse to provide.
I’ve never been considered “essential.” Why am I now?
The State has indicated that it considers all State employees essential. We do not agree that this is the case.
Can the definition of essential/emergency change from day-to-day?
Although the emergency itself is unlikely to change, the designation of employees who are considered essential/emergency may. Employees who are initially deemed non-emergency may later be deemed emergency workers, due to changes in staffing levels or needs, and vice versa.
Does the Governor have the authority to order employees to work?
Yes. The Governor has emergency powers that authorize her to transfer the direction, personnel or functions of state departments and agencies for the purposes of performing or facilitating emergency services in the case of a civil emergency.
Can essential/emergency employees who are directed to work as part of the emergency refuse to work?
No. Employees who are deemed emergency or essential are expected to work and may face discipline for refusal. However, essential/emergency employees should not report to work if they are sick or otherwise required to self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.
What should I do if I am an essential employee and also at high risk for COVID-19?
You may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA; you should speak with your health care provider and HR to begin the accommodations process.
If I am not deemed to be an emergency/essential worker, will I continue to be paid during a period of administrative closure? “]
If employees are directed not to work, regardless of whether there is an actual administrative closure, we expect that non-essential/non-emergency employees will be paid. We understand that in circumstances where buildings have closed and employees have not been able to telework, they have received administrative or emergency leave with pay.
If employees are laid off or take an unpaid leave relating to COVID-19, would they be eligible for unemployment benefits?
Employees who are laid off or furloughed relating to COVID-19 are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. Under the recently-passed statute, the waiting week is waived, as well. Under the new federal CARES Act, UI benefits have been extended, the benefit has been increased and some employees who may not have been eligible before or who may have exhausted their benefits may be eligible for new or additional benefits. Employees who take an unpaid leave relating to a need to self-quarantine, care for a family member with COVID-19 or avoid exposure may also qualify for benefits. For more information on UI benefits relating to COVID-19, please check our FAQ or visit the MaineDOL’s website for guidance. When in doubt about whether you qualify, we encourage you to apply.