March 31 update to Executive Branch workers: Our response to COVID-19

Know your rights! New sick-leave law takes effect April 1

Dear Fellow Executive Branch Workers,

These are difficult times for all of us with this COVID-19 outbreak. In light of recent circumstances, I want to give you an update and remind you of the various types of leave available to you, should you feel the need to utilize it.

As more State offices begin to close due to potential exposures, it’s important for you to know that management has not been informing employees about suspected or potential exposure to coronavirus unless there is a confirmed positive test result in the workspace. We have encouraged management to treat every suspected case as a potential positive and to give workers as much notice as possible, particularly in light of the nationwide shortage of tests, but to date they have not agreed to do so. Accordingly, we would encourage each of you to let your coworkers and your union know if you are being medically quarantined, and we can provide a general notice regarding potential exposures to your coworkers.

SICK LEAVE UNDER YOUR UNION CONTRACT
First, under your collective bargaining agreement (CBA), you are entitled to use any accrued sick leave for either your own illness or medical care or that of an immediate family member which requires your attention or presence. Pursuant to the CBA, the employer may request a doctor’s note from you after you use your contractual sick leave for five or more consecutive days. However, the federal Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance to employers advising them to not require such notes so as not to overburden the healthcare system at this time. “Employers should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work,” states that CDC guidance to employers. “Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.”

Additionally, the State has stated that employees may utilize sick leave in order to care for a child whose school is currently closed.

VACATION TIME, COMP TIME OR PERSONAL TIME ACCRUED UNDER YOUR UNION CONTRACT
Second, you are entitled to request any vacation time accrued under the contract, though you may need to seek pre-approval, and your request will be subject to operational needs. Similarly, you may also have compensatory time or personal time available to you under the CBA. Your Executive Branch contract can be found on our website.

YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE NEW FEDERAL SICK-LEAVE LAW THAT TAKES EFFECT APRIL 1, 2020
Third, pursuant to the new Federal sick-leave law that takes effect on April 1, 2020, (details at this 2-page guidance document from our international union, SEIU), the State is obligated to provide you with 80 hours of sick leave that may be used in the following circumstances:

  1. You are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine order related to COVID-19;
  2. You have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  3. You are experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. You are caring for an individual who is subject to the quarantines above;
  5. You are caring for a child whose school or day care has been closed due to COVID-19; or
  6. You are experiencing any other substantially similar condition, as specified by the Federal government.
    Under the Federal sick-leave law, you are entitled to use this leave prior to any other leave that might be available to you. The sick leave available for use for one of the first three reasons is fully paid; if the use is for one of the latter three reasons, it may not be fully paid, though we have asked the State to provide fully paid leave regardless of the reason.

Here is the official U.S. Department of Labor posting that employers are required to provide employees to inform them of their rights under the Federal sick-leave law, formally known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

YOUR RIGHT TO REQUEST AN UNPAID LEAVE
Fourth, you are entitled to request an unpaid leave without reprisal, which shall not be unreasonably denied. If you request an unpaid leave related to COVID-19, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits for the period you go without pay. You should also know that on March 27, 2020, new federal unemployment programs were enacted that expand eligibility. Here’s a summary of the Maine Unemployment Programs currently authorized, and their status here in Maine, including those in effect during the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

YOUR RIGHTS UNDER A STATE LAW ALLOWING LEAVE DURING A PANDEMIC
Fifth, under Maine law governing employment leave during an extreme public health emergency, the State is required to grant employees “reasonable and necessary leave from work, with or without pay” if the employee is unable to work for one of the following reasons:

  1. The employee is under individual public health investigation, supervision, or treatment related to the emergency;
  2. The employee is acting in accordance with an extreme public health emergency order;
  3. The employee is in quarantine or isolation or otherwise subject to a control measure in accordance with extreme public health emergency information or directions issued to the public, a part of the public or one or more individuals;
  4. The employee is unable to work because of a direction given by the employer in response to a concern that the employee may expose other in the workspace; or
  5. The employee is needed to provide care to a dependent child, spouse, or parent.
    Please note that this leave is not available to public employees who job is “related to services necessary for protecting the public’s health and safety in an extreme public health emergency” unless the person is the sole care provider for a dependent child, spouse, or parent.
    We have demanded that the State provide leave with administrative pay to all “non-essential” personnel who satisfy the above criteria, but to date they have refused to do so.

YOUR RIGHT TO REQUEST AN ACCOMMODATION FOR AN UNDERLYING HEALTH CONDITION FOR YOU OUR SOMEONE YOU LIVE WITH
Finally, if you suffer an underlying health condition, or if you live with someone who suffers from such a condition, you may initiate an accommodation request by contacting your HR department and request the forms for accommodations under the ADA.

LET US KNOW IF WE CAN HELP
We want to hear from you! If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know using this official MSEA-SEIU link.

STAY CONNECTED

We’ll follow up with new developments.

In Solidarity,
Dean Staffieri
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989

Updated: April 1, 2020 — 9:44 AM