RI to employers: Don’t penalize workers for staying home sick

Coronavirus

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island state leaders are urging employers not to penalize their workers for doing their part in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Since the state’s first cases were reported, both the R.I. Department of Health and Gov. Gina Raimondo have urged residents to stay home from school and work if they feel sick.

On Friday, R.I. Department of Labor and Training (DLT) Director Scott Jensen told Eyewitness News that helping people whose lives have been disrupted by the virus is a top priority for the agency.

“The concern is that people who are really trying to make ends meet may not stay home, and therefore our efforts to help limit the spread won’t be as effective,” he said.

According to Jensen, there are three ways the DLT can help Rhode Islanders out of work due to the coronavirus.

First, Jensen suggested taking a look at the state’s paid sick leave law, known as the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act. The law requires that all organizations with 18 or more employees provide up to five paid sick days annually.

“If anybody needs to stay home, almost every worker in the state can make use of that law and has that right,” Jensen said.

Of course, not everyone is eligible for paid sick time, and for those who are, there are limits on leave based on factors such as length of employment.

“Each situation’s going to be a little bit different,” Jensen said.

A second option is temporary disability insurance, which Jensen says can help in replacing lost wages.

Lastly, if a place of work has to temporarily shut down, employees may qualify for unemployment insurance.

“I just want to make sure nobody is going to work when they probably should be home for a couple weeks,” Jensen added.

On Friday, the DLT launched a dedicated hotline to answer questions about paid sick time. The hotline will be staffed on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached at (401) 462-2020 or DLT.covid19@dlt.ri.gov.

Separately, Democratic U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse on Thursday signed a joint letter to major business groups urging them to support employees who can’t go to work due to the virus.

“If big companies don’t fairly compensate workers who are following the CDC’s advice, then the spread of coronavirus could intensify, lengthen, and cost everybody more in the long run,” Reed said.

“Most Rhode Islanders have five days of sick leave under state law, but we are asking businesses to lead in this crisis by being as flexible as possible beyond that baseline,” Whitehouse added.

Anyone who has questions regarding coronavirus can call the R.I. Department of Health at (401) 222-8022 or visit the department’s website.

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