Are Employers Obligated to Pay Their Employees During Quarantine?

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting businesses around the world. While essential businesses like hospitals, restaurants, and supermarkets continue to operate, many non-essential businesses are either temporarily closing or shifting their workforce to a work from home scheme.

What this means for the country’s workforce, however, is that many businesses are facing losses from the low to no revenue during the quarantine. As of writing, around 33 million Americans have lost their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs, and it’s expected that the country’s economy may drop as low as that of Great Depression levels. While many employees continue to work from their own home, some employees, on the other hand, are not technically fired, but are not receiving any income.

But the question for many employees and their families remain: are employers obligated to continue paying their employees during the quarantine?

Work from Home Situations

If it’s business as usual (or at least, business as usual given the current circumstances) but in a work from home scheme, employers still have to pay their employees. Though they’re not in an office setting, employers must pay for the work rendered by the employees as they would on a regular basis.

The only problem of this situation, however, is the work-life balance that’s slowly disappearing with more people spending more time at work because the line that separates work from their personal life has disappeared with people working and performing their everyday lives. This can have an effect on productivity or if your employees file for overtime.

Work from home

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

What about employees of non-essential businesses that can’t work from home? Congress’ recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act may be able to provide employees with the funds to survive the quarantine.

Businesses with less than 500 employees are required to give their employees sick pay or family leave, allowing them to collect their salaries for certain days of quarantine even if they cannot work. Bigger businesses with more than 500 employees are not subject to this rule, though it’s highly likely that they have already provided policies of their own. Businesses with less than 50 employees may also be exempted from certain parts of the new law.

Paying Your Employees

Trends are showing that many employers are still paying their employees even during business closures during the quarantine. This is despite the fact that they are only required to pay non-exempt employees for the time they work.

If an exempt employee works any part of the work week but doesn’t work for the remainder of the week because the employer closed down the business, the exempt employee is due their weekly salary; if they do no work, they’re not entitled to compensation.

Helping Your Employees During Quarantine

Aside from financial support, you can help your employees keep their morale up during the quarantine by performing a number of tasks.

  • Sending aid (e.g. food, toiletries, etc.) to your less fortunate employees and those who are less equipped to wait out the pandemic.
  • Keep them updated on news about the company operations and steps the company is doing to ensure the safety of their employees.
  • Update them regarding the financial status of the company. It’s expected that millions of Americans will lose their jobs because of many businesses making less revenue during the quarantine. Letting them know the current status can give them a sense of whether or not the company could go under. If you’re planning on lay-offs, it’s best to be as transparent as possible instead of keeping your employees in the dark.
  • Encourage your employees to limit their work-related communications to business hours. Because of the diminishing work-life balance, more employees are spending more time doing work because their personal lives at home are interfering with productivity. To help balance their time and keep their mental health, discourage employees from sending each other work-related messages outside of business hours. Likewise, discourage your employees from responding to emails and messages outside of their work hours.
  • Encourage work from home even after the quarantine ends. For your employees’ safety, allow a one or two-week buffer between the end of the quarantine period before returning to the office. This is to see the effects of businesses slowly returning to normal. This can help everyone assess the effects of businesses reopening despite there being no cure for COVID-19 yet.
Working in bed

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Depending on your business, you may be required by law to continue paying your employees if your business is doing a work from home situation, if your business falls under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act, or if your area has certain rules regarding employee compensation.

Otherwise, you’re not really required to pay employees who cannot work. The question of whether or not you should regardless of what the law says, however, can affect your employee’s relationship with your business after everything settles down and improves.

The Author

Scroll to Top