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FAQs FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS ABOUT COVID-19

Understanding COVID-19

Q: What are the clinical features of COVID-19?

A: The clinical spectrum ranges from mild disease with non-specific signs and symptoms of acute respiratory illness, to severe pneumonia with respiratory failure and septic shock. There have also been reports of asymptomatic infection with COVID-19. The most common features of the virus are:

  • Fever [temperature of 100 degrees F for healthcare workers]
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
  • Sore throat

See also Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Q: Who is at risk for COVID-19?

A: Currently, those at greatest risk of infection are persons who have had prolonged, unprotected close contact with a patient with symptomatic, confirmed COVID-19, adults individuals with certain pre-existing conditions including heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and asthma, and those who live in or have recently been to areas with sustained transmission.

Health, Safety & PPE

Personal Protective Equipment

There is a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment and our union is fighting to make sure our Federal government takes action now to address it.   You can join the fight here: https://www.1199seiu.org//PPEPetition.

Here is the 1199SEIU Training Fund on COVID-19, including how to don and doff PPE: https://www.1199seiubenefits.org/funds-and-services/training-and-employment/

Q: What is the appropriate personal protective equipment when caring for patients with suspected COVID-19?

A: The CDC recommends using droplet precautions for patients known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19. Recommended personal protective equipment includes gloves, gowns, mouth, nose and eye protection. N95s should be added to droplet precaution PPEs during aerosol generating procedures such as intubation and nebulizers.

See: OSHA Standards and Directives Applicable to Worker Exposure to COVID-19

See: Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with

Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Healthcare Settings

Q: What about when N95 and other supplies are running low?

A: The CDC recommends several crisis/alternate strategies in these circumstances including:

  • Use of respirators beyond the designated shelf life
  • Use of respirators under standards used in other countries similar to NIOSH
  • Limited reuse of respirators
  • Extended use
  • Prioritizing use of N95 respirators and face masks by activity type

Particularly when the supply of N95s are running low, certain members should be excluded from care of COVID-19 patients or PUI/PUM (i.e. immunocompromised members, pregnant members or members with other serious health conditions which may put them at higher risk for severe illness related to COVID-19) to allow the supply of N95s to be used for those providing care to such patients, particularly when aerosolizing procedures are being performed.

Employers should also make environmental changes to reduce exposure, for example by the use of extension tubing to place IV pumps outside of the rooms of patients in isolation to minimize the number of times staff must enter rooms.

Q. Should I avoid wearing my work clothes home?

A: Many workers who have been caring for COVID 19 patients prefer not to wear their own scrubs or other work clothes home. The union recommends that employers provide a place for showering, booties and plastic bags for disrobing, as well as the option of scrubs for members of the care team.

Paid and Unpaid Leave

Q: Am I eligible for paid leave if I was exposed to COVID-19?

A:  CDC guidance permits asymptomatic healthcare workers to work even following exposure, however you must monitor your temperature  and must isolate and cannot work if you become symptomatic.

Q: What if I am sent home or prohibited from working, do I get paid or do I use PTO?

A: It is the Union’s position that any employee sent home due to COVID-19 must be paid by the employer without using their own time.  The recently passed federal “Families First Coronavirus Act’‘ provides for paid sick and paid family leave related to COVID-19.  However, Congress failed healthcare workers by allowing most of us to be exempted.   The law does not apply to employers with more than 500 or fewer than 50 workers and guidance recently released by the US Department of Labor allows health care providers to opt to exempt their employees from eligibility for these benefits.  The Union is fighting to ensure that this exemption is eliminated in the next Federal coronavirus bill. 

Information on paid leave for New York workers

Both New York State and New York City have issued guidance echoing the CDC’s guidance that absent a positive test result for COVID-19, asymptomatic healthcare workers may continue to work regardless of exposure.  New York State passed an emergency sick leave law providing up to 14 paid sick days for employees who are ordered quarantined or isolated.  Employers with between 11 to 99 employees are required to pay for 5 days themselves, after which paid family leave and/or disability insurance should be available to cover the remaining.  In both instances this paid sick leave is in addition to any other paid time off benefits the member may be entitled to.

 

Paid and Sick Leave for New York Workers

Q. I’m a nursing home worker in NY, how is return to work handled if I tested positive for COVID-19?

A:  Nursing home employees who test positive for COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic are not eligible to return to work for 14 days from first positive test date in any situation and will no longer adhere to the shorter CDC timeframe. Symptomatic nursing home employees may not return to work until 14 days after the onset of symptoms, provided at least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and respiratory symptoms are improving.

Q. If I got sick from COVID-19, do I apply for Workers Compensation?

A:  A member exposed to COVID-19 (directly or indirectly) on a job that is quarantined (even without becoming ill), or that is ill with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 (even without actual contact tracing), should promptly file a “C-3 form” with the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board (or the corresponding form and agency within their state’s labor department).  For healthcare workers, a COVID-19 infection on the job should be considered an “occupational disease” or “occupational illness.”  The application should contain as much detail as possible about the exposure. Having an application started is vital in the event of your death. Workers’ Compensation survivor benefits can be up to $45,000 per year for the widowed spouse (until remarriage) or minor children of a deceased worker.

When health care workers are quarantined (compelled or directed by the employer or government authority) based on some level of exposure on the job, the lost time and medical care provided during the quarantine is also considered compensable for purposes of workers’ compensation law—even if the worker turned out not to have COVID-19.

Even in the absence of illness, quarantine, or a Worker’s Compensation Board determination that COVID-19 is an “occupational illness,” the exposure is the injury for which you can file.

If you need help or advice concerning your Workers’ Compensation claim, call the Benefit Fund at (646) 473-9200.

Q. Employers are telling members they may only take paid sick leave if they are actually COVID-19 positive and showing symptoms. Is this correct?

A: Paid sick leave days are only for when a worker is required to quarantine or isolate.  Based on the DOH Advisory, healthcare workers are not required to quarantine or isolate based on exposure alone.  However, members are entitled to at least 7 days of paid sick leave if they must isolate or cannot work because they test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms of COVID-19.  In either case, according to the DOH Advisory, they cannot work unless/until 7 days have elapsed since their test or the onset of their symptoms, and respiratory symptoms are improving, and they are fever free without medication for 72 hours (7-day/72-hour test).   In addition, an asymptomatic member who tests positive is required to stay out for an additional 7 days if they develop symptoms within the initial 7-day isolation period.

Although quarantine-based paid sick leave is not available for our members based on exposure alone, under the DOH Advisory, healthcare employees who must isolate and fail to meet the criteria for returning to work listed in the Advisory are entitled to paid sick leave benefits.

Q. Why are some Doctor’s notes being rejected as insufficient by employers for paid sick leave?

A: There is no stated requirement that employees required to stay away from work (isolate) by their employer also obtain an order of quarantine or isolation from their local Health Department or an attestation from their doctor to receive paid sick leave. However, any doctor’s note obtained for paid sick leave purposes must be an attestation that the member meets one of the listed bases for obtaining an order of quarantine or isolation: for healthcare workers, either a positive test result or symptoms of COVID-19.   Ask your doctor to state the COVID-19 specific basis for you to be out of work. Remember, exposure alone is not sufficient.

Q. My employer sent me home based on cold-like symptoms, then required me to come back to work after 2 days and use my own sick time for the 2 days. Is this correct?

A: If an employer sends an employee home based on symptoms that raise suspicion of COVID-19, they cannot require the employee to return to work until they have satisfied the 7 day/72-hour test as described in the DOH Advisory.  Because symptoms trigger isolation, they are entitled to 7 days of paid sick leave automatically and cannot be required to use their own sick time or paid time off.  Also, where your 1199 contract has a guarantee of hours, the employer cannot require you to miss work for non-disciplinary reasons and then refuse to pay you.

Q. If an employer sends a member home for a few days as a precaution due to exposure to a COVID-19 positive co-worker or patient and no symptoms develop, is the member entitled to paid sick leave?

A: Yes. Once an employer sends a member home as a precaution they are “furloughed to isolate” as referenced in the DOH Advisory and entitled to paid sick leave.  The employee should not return to work until the 7 days have passed and should certainly get paid sick for any days the employer requires them to miss. As described above, members may have a contractual right to be paid as well.

Layoff & Furlough

Q: What are my options if my employer is laying off or furloughing staff because my facility has reduced patients?

A: Members’ options when dealing with layoffs are primarily controlled by their 1199 contract.  All 1199 contracts provide that layoffs must be implemented by seniority and allow for seniority-based bumping within your same classification or group.

If you work for an employer that contributes to the 1199SEIU Job Security Fund (JSF) you will be eligible for additional benefits. Ask your organizer whether the JSF is negotiated in your contract. If you are eligible for JSF benefits your organizer and employer will provide information to the JSF.  Please make sure to update your contact information with your employer.

Q If my hours are reduced, am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

A: You might be. Follow the instructions below related to lay-offs to determine your level of benefits from the unemployment compensation system. These rules apply to all states.

Q: What unemployment benefits am I eligible for?

A: Your union fought for extended and additional unemployment benefits for all workers affected by the pandemic. The benefit possibilities outlined below are newly available state and federal benefits that do not include and are in addition to the paid time off that you may have already earned and may be entitled to receive.

You are eligible for regular 26 weeks of unemployment plus an addition 13 weeks through December 31, 2020. You are also eligible for “enhanced benefits,” an additional $600 per week, through July 31, 2020. Example: if your regular unemployment benefit would have been $300 per week, under the new expansion you will receive an additional $600 of federal pandemic unem­ployment compensation, for a total of $900 per week.

All waiting periods are eliminated during the crisis.

Q. Do I need to use all of my earned sick time before applying for unemployment benefits?

A: No, if you are laid-off or experience a reduction of hours or are otherwise eligible for un­employment insurance, you do not need to use your earned sick time before applying for unemployment insurance.

Q. How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

Q. If I am not eligible for the JSF is there another service that can help me find another job if I am unemployed?

A: Yes, the 1199SEIU Employment Center (EC) is available to you. The EC can help you find a new job. Right now, many healthcare employers are experiencing a shortage of work­ers. Please go to https://www.1199seiubenefits.org/employment-center  to upload your information. You do not need to enter your information if you are eligible for Job Security Fund Benefits.

Workplace Issues

Q: I am in a high-risk group and do not want to expose myself by going to work. What are my options?

A: Employees may request reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include the use of paid and unpaid leave.   In addition, you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a supplemental Unemployment Insurance benefit available under the CARES Act if you believe you have been forced to quit or are unable to travel to work for medical reasons as a result of COVID-19.  Apply through your state’s unemployment system.

Q: I am a home healthcare worker and believe my client may have been exposed to coronavirus, what do I do?

A: If you think your client may have been exposed to coronavirus, you should report that exposure to your coordinator. You should also ask the client if they have a fever, or respiratory symptoms such as cough and or shortness of breath and if they do, report this to the client’s care coordinator.  If the client is able to wear a facemask, the client should be asked to wear a face mask to prevent transmission to others. If the client is unable to wear a facemask, they should be instructed to use tissues or other barriers to cover their mouth and nose. Healthcare providers should also wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE), if available, including gloves and facemask while in the client’s home, should practice proper hand hygiene before and after all client contact, and should remove and discard all PPE upon leaving the clients home.

 

Finances

Q: Is there any other form of assistance available for members who have situations that make it impossible to work for COVID-19 reasons?

A:  The CARES Act provides unemployment insurance benefits in the form of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for members who are unable to work for certain COVID-19 reasons, listed below. These benefits are accessed through your state unemployment system.

New York State

Massachusetts

Florida

Maryland

District of Columbia

New Jersey

Please note, if you are sick you should access Disability and/or Workers Compensation rather than PUA. Also, in considering whether to stay home from work and seek PUA benefits members should take into account the possibility of losing health insurance coverage and/or the right to return to their position. To avoid any adverse impact on employment status and health coverage, members should seek approval of an unpaid leave of absence from their employer.

PUA benefits only last for the duration of the COVID-19 qualifying reason the employee is unable to work and are not available to employees who have the ability to telework with pay, or who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.

According to the CARES Act, PUA benefits can be accessed for workers who cannot work because they:

  • Are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking diagnosis
  • Are providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Are the primary caregiver for a child whose school or care facility is closed due to COVID-19. Please note schools are only considered closed due to COVID-19 until the school year’s regularly scheduled closing date.
  • Are unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine travel restriction, or because advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19
    • This includes individuals who are immunocompromised due to a serious health condition that places them at greater risk of developing serious illness in response to COVID-19. You must have a doctor certify that you have such condition to be eligible.
  • Became the major breadwinner because head of household died from COVID-19
  • Has to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19. It is important to note that an employee does not have to quit their job if paid sick leave, or other paid benefits are available. You should also speak with your employer about obtaining a reasonable accommodation or taking a leave of absence.
  • Had their place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19

Q: Someone in my family works as an “independent contractor” or “freelancer” and they have not been eligible for unemployment compensation in the past. Are they eligible for anything now?

A: 1199 and other unions fought for workers who are not normally covered by unemployment compensation to get benefits. The CARES Act provides emergency unemployment benefits from your state for up to 39 weeks. Your family and friends can apply in the same place as other state unemployment benefits (see above).

Q: I heard that I might be getting a check from the federal government, is that true?

A: Individual workers making less than $75,000 will receive a check of $1,200. Married workers will receive a check of $2,400 if their combined income is less than $150,000. 1199 fought for the CARES Act to make sure workers have income during this crisis.

Q. When do I have to pay my taxes?

A: The new federal deadline to file taxes is July 15.  Many states have postponed their deadlines, including NY, MD, MA and DC.  NJ has not yet extended its deadline but check with the NJ Department of Treasury, Division of Taxation for updates.

Q: What if I can’t pay my mortgage?

A: If your ability to pay your mortgage is impacted, and your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be eligible to delay making your monthly mortgage payments for a temporary period. Contact your mortgage servicer (the company where you send your monthly payments) as soon as possible to let them know about your current circumstances. The telephone number and mailing address of your mortgage servicer should be listed on your monthly mortgage statement.

https://www.fhfa.gov/Homeownersbuyer/MortgageAssistance/Pages/Coronavirus-Assistance-Information.aspx

Childcare

Q: What resources are available to me to make sure my children are cared for while I am at work?

A: We are working in all of our regions to make sure that members have access to quality childcare, and the Federal CARES Act provided additional funding to support childcare for healthcare workers.

In New York City, members can access Regional Enrichment Centers providing care from 7:30 – 6 using this link.  Westchester County resources are here.  The 1199SEIU Child Care Fund has a list of resources on its webpage.  

In Massachusetts, The state has arranged for urgent child care services for essential workers like you. You should not consider this as a regular option for child care, but you can contact any provider on this approved list to arrange drop-in child care.

Q: If I cannot locate child care, am I eligible for paid family leave to care for my children?

A: While there is expanded paid family leave provided for under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, healthcare workers are largely excluded because they work for employers with more than 500 employees and/or because health care employers are permitted to exempt their employees.  The Union is fighting to expand these protections to all healthcare workers in the next bill.

Some states do provide access to paid family leave.

New York:

New York members who are caring for children with serious medical conditions may be eligible for up to 10 weeks of paid leave under New York’s paid family leave law.  A serious medical condition is defined as a chronic serious health condition that continues over an extended period, requires periodic treatment visits, and may cause episodic periods of incapacity.  Examples given include asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Employees of private employers with less than 100 employees may qualify for Quarantine Leave under NYS Paid Family Leave to care for a minor dependent child who is under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation for the duration of the order.

New Jersey:

Under New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance law, employees can access up to 6 weeks of partial wage replacement to care for a sick family member (including COVID-19) or to bond with a newborn or adopted child.  Starting July 1, 2020, the program will increase the benefit to 12 weeks.

Massachusetts:

Paid family and medical leave is a state-offered benefit for anyone who works in Massachusetts and is eligible to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave for medical or family reasons.  https://www.mass.gov/info-details/paid-family-and-medical-leave-pfml-fact-sheet#what-is-pfml?-