Coronavirus and Your Legal Rights Explained: FAQs

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COVID-19 or the coronavirus, is an infectious disease that is adversely affecting the health of the global population. Common symptoms for coronavirus include cough, fever, tiredness, shortness of breath, and other respiratory symptoms.

In response to this global pandemic, many companies and government officials are encouraging people to engage in social distancing and responsible hygienic practices. To ensure that contact with other potentially infected individuals is kept to a minimum, state and local officials have closed the doors to many of the places we all frequented just a few days ago.

Here in Central Florida, all bars along with many stores and hotels are closed for the next 30 days or more. Additionally, many restaurants are closing or are only open for delivery and take-out orders.

With many of these businesses closed either temporarily, indefinitely, or permanently, we know that layoffs may begin happening. The questions we are getting from clients and friends has prompted us to provide some basic information on what rights employees have with respect to their current or former employers during these challenging times. We have also included some general questions about the virus and what is being done to stop it here in Central Florida.

Q:  Do we have any idea when this virus will be under control and when people can resume working?

A: Government officials, the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and many others are working around the clock to find a solution to this global crisis. Unfortunately to date there is no government approved medication for this virus, but these organizations are working as quickly as possible to stop the virus from spreading and provide a proven medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Q: I saw that the local government just imposed a curfew from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am. Do I have to stay inside during those hours?

A: We believe that we need to take all protective measure imposed by state and local officials seriously. The purpose of this curfew is to minimize exposure and keep people safe and healthy. Unless you’ve been authorized by your job or a governmental agency to be on the road, please adhere to the local and state official’s recommendations and STAY HOME!!!

Q: Is Florida seeing any negative economic impacts from this virus?

A: Yes, Florida has already seen claims for unemployment benefits double within the last week alone. If you have already been laid off, we suggest filing for benefits now so that you can receive the much needed assistance as quickly as possible.

Q: Is the governor of the state doing anything to help those that are currently or will soon become in need of financial assistance?

A: Yes, Gov. DeSantis is currently looking at all options available to get checks out to people who have become displaced as a result of the recent pandemic. He is currently in the process of determining his authority and ability to take such measures.

Q: Can I be laid off for any reason?

A: Generally, at-will employees can be laid off with or without cause, however, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees when deciding who to lay off. Employers cannot fire employees if it is based on their age, race, religion, national origin, sex or disability.

Q: My job laid off half of the staff but decided to retain the other half. Is this legal?

A: Unfortunately, yes, as long as you were not terminated for a discriminatory reason or there were not retained because of discriminatory reason.

Q:  I’ve already been laid off and filed for unemployment benefits. How long will it take to receive a check?

A:  It generally takes a few weeks to receive your first check once your request has been approved. Additionally, benefits can last anywhere from 12 to 23 weeks depending on the current unemployment rate statewide.

Q:   My mother is sick with the coronavirus and I’m the only person that can care for her. Can my employer fire me as a result of this need?

A:  The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) prohibits covered employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against eligible employees because of their need or request for medical leave. An employer may not inhibit their employee’s right to take up 12 weeks leave per year because of a qualifying medical condition or to care for a spouse, parent or child. A covered employer under the FMLA is an employer with 50 or more employees.

Q:  What if I am laid off but by employer still owes me backpay or never gave me my last check?

A:  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Florida Minimum Wage Act both allow employees who are owed wages to sue the company and its owners for unpaid overtime and unpaid minimum wages. If you are owed anything after being laid off, by law you are entitled to your pay.

Q: I have been laid off and am struggling to provide food for my kids who are now at home from school. What resources are available for them to have meals?

A: There is currently a hotline dedicated to finding free meals for children. You can call 211 to speak an operator or text FLKIDSMEALS to 211-211 to find a place near you providing such services. Should you not have any in your area, please reach out to your local school district to see where meals are being provided. Additionally, starting next week restaurant chain Burger King is going to provide two free kids meals with any purchase while supplies last to help families in need.

Q: Is there a website that shows where I can get free meals for my school age children?

A: Yes. Summerbreakspot.freshfromflorida.com

Q:  If I am laid off, am I allowed to file for unemployment benefits if my employer tells me not to?

A: Yes. It is illegal for employers to discourage employees from applying for Unemployment Compensation Insurance. Employees also have the right to apply for partial unemployment benefits if they remain employed but their hours and/or pay was reduced or if the employee was furloughed as opposed to laid off.

Q:  Is my employer allowed to fire me without notice?

A:  In some situations, yes but in others, no. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act of 1988 (WARN Act) requires companies with 100 or more employees to give at least 60 days advance notice of mass layoffs. The type of employees entitled to notice under the WARN Act are supervisors, managers, salary and hourly employees. The intent of the notice is to help people prepare for the prospect of job loss. Failure to give employees advanced notice means that laid off employees can sue both the company and its owners.

Q: In Florida, where should I look to find out more information about unemployment benefits?

A:  http://www.floridajobs.org/job-seekers-community-services

Bradley Lightbourne
Bradley Lightbourne
Attorney Bradley Lightbourne is an Associate Attorney at the Law Office of Hogan & Hogan.