As we learned more and more in the past few weeks about the rapid spread of Coronavirus throughout Massachusetts, legislators, local school districts and businesses everywhere began enacting strict measures in order to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of the virus. With very short notice, families throughout the Commonwealth found out that either parents’ jobs were going away, or that children would not be able to go to school (and as of March 18th, daycare facilities would be shut down to all but children of emergency workers).

Facebook’s Covid 19 Information Page
https://www.facebook.com/coronavirus_info/?page_source=bookmark

These rapidly developing events led to many people being faced with not being able to work either due to their job shutting its doors, or to needing to stay home with children. And, in cases of either testing positive for Covid-19 or being exposed to someone who had, employees were required to not show up for work. Lawmakers at both the federal and local level have been scrambling to fill the gaps caused by the situation.

Here at Horrigan Norman, we would like to provide this guide to help workers and their families cope with the stress of the uncertain future and hopefully answer some common questions.

Quick Links:
For employees
For freelancers
For parents
For people that want to help

For employees

My employer had to shut their doors for a while. Can I collect unemployment?

The MA Dept. of Unemployment updates guidelines states:
“DUA may now pay unemployment benefits if a worker is quarantined due to an order by a civil authority or medical professional or leaves employment due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member and does not intend to or is not allowed to return to work.” (mass.gov #4) This includes restaurant workers affected by the enforced closure of restaurants.

To read the full guideline go here:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-guidance-and-directives#businesses-&-employers-

Check your eligibility here:
https://www.mass.gov/service-details/check-eligibility-for-unemployment-benefits

To start filling out your unemployment claim, go here:
https://www.mass.gov/applying-for-unemployment-benefits

TIP: if you have never filed for unemployment before, and need to call the DUA, get comfortable and stay near a phone charger. Wait times can be lengthy. Sometimes it works best to call towards the end of the department’s business hours.

Here’s a quick guide to filing in MA
https://patch.com/massachusetts/woburn/ma-coronavirus-what-you-need-know-unemployment-benefits

What if my employer tries to ignore or fight my claim?

It happens. Employers pay unemployment insurance to fund any unemployment claims made by employees. So, the more employees of that company that file unemployment, the more their unemployment insurance rates go up. And sometimes companies that don’t want to pay the extra money will either ignore or deny a claim, even if it’s valid. Don’t give up! Your former employer can’t deny your benefits; only the state agency can make that decision.

Generally speaking you will qualify for benefits only if: You are out of work through no fault of your own. Such as, your place of work being shut down to contain the spread of the virus.
If you quit your last job voluntarily, without good cause (as your state defines that term), you won’t be eligible for benefits. You also won’t qualify if you were fired for serious misconduct, again as defined by your state.

What if my employer forces me to take unpaid time off?

Huffpost article: What To Do If You’re Put On Unpaid Leave Over Coronavirus
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/unpaid-leave-coronavirus_l_5e6bd44ac5b6747ef11c9e7c

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: A Breakdown of its contents
https://www.npr.org/2020/03/19/818322136/heres-what-is-in-the-families-first-coronavirus-aid-package-trump-approved

I don’t feel safe going to work and worried I’ll be exposed to the Coronavirus. What are my rights?

OSHA Employer Responsibility Guidelines:
https://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/employer-responsibility.html

OSHA Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19 (download pdf)
https://horrigannorman.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/OSHA3990-EmployerCovid19-Guide.pdf

If you feel that your employer is not taking the necessary steps to keep you from being exposed to the Coronavirus, you can document the conditions as best you can while keeping yourself and others safe. OSHA does have protection for those who want to file a “Whistleblower Complaint”.
https://www.whistleblowers.gov/

For Freelancers

If you are a freelancer, on the bright side, you may already work from home so don’t have to adjust to a new work environment. However, what about your clients? Are they shutting down their main office? Shuttering their restaurant? How can you protect your income when your business depends on theirs?

A guide to being proactive with your clients
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/17/freelancers-should-do-this-now-to-protect-against-crises-like-covid-19.html

More Helpful Info and links for Freelancers and Small Businesses
https://www.freshbooks.com/blog/covid-19-resources

For Parents

My workplace is not closed, but my kids’ school and daycare is shut down. What can I do?

If your job is essential to fighting the spread of Covid-19:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-guidance-and-directives

Here’s the part that discusses emergency worker childcare:

Early Education and Care
Governor Baker has ordered all early childhood education programs across the State of Massachusetts to suspend providing childcare by 11:59 P.M. on Sunday, March 22, 2020. This will remain in effect until April 6, 2020. At the same time, the Department of Early Education and Care (“EEC”) is establishing a process to approve Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs to serve vulnerable children and the children of families who are required to work to maintain the health, safety and welfare of all Commonwealth citizens. This approach prioritizes public health and safety while maintaining critical service for vulnerable children and the children of families who are required to work during this pandemic.
Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs will be the only child care programs that are allowed to operate during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
Child care providers who are able to begin providing Emergency Child Care must begin the approval process by signing up through EEC’s online form: https://forms.gle/STCkBpVHk4PsF7w56

I’m not an emergency worker, but I need to keep working. I don’t have anyone who can watch my kids. What can I do?

If there is any type of silver lining in this crisis, it could be that some gaping holes in the fabric of American society are finally coming under intense scrutiny. Massachusetts is not alone in dealing with the dilemma of parents needing to work, while also needing to take care of young children.

At this time, the most vulnerable families can utilize some emergency measures as detailed here:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/guidance-related-to-early-childhood-education-programs#frequently-asked-questions—for-parents-

Make your voice heard! Help Childcare.org get the word to legislators and raise awareness about this critical stresspoint in our society during this crisis:
https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/advocacy/take-action/support-child-care-during-covid-19-response/

Could I claim Family Medical Leave if I have to stay home with my kids?

The Department of Labor states:
Leave taken by an employee for the purpose of avoiding exposure to the flu would not be protected under FMLA.
No Federal Obligation to Provide Private Sector Employees With Leave to Take Care of Healthy Children Dismissed from School. At this time, no federal law requires an employer to provide non-government employees who take off from work to care for healthy children, and employers are not required by federal law to provide leave to employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care. That being said, the DOL encourages employers to “review their leave policies to consider providing increasing flexibility to their employees and their families” “given the potential for significant illness under some pandemic influenza scenarios.”

Childcarecircuit.org:
This agency is doing all it can to provide advice to parents of young children during this time
https://www.childcarecircuit.org/

For People Who Want to Help

I’m healthy and sitting around the house, how can I help?

Find Help/Provide Help via the United Way

United Way Covid 19 Family Fund
https://unitedwaymassbay.org/get-involved/covid-19-family-fund/

Get Help from United Way
https://unitedwaymassbay.org/resources/need-help/

Some quick tips on best ways to volunteer:
https://www.idealist.org/en/careers/help-others-coronavirus

Volunteer to help elderly people on the North Shore
https://www.spur.community/community-opportunities

Help support restaurant workers
https://www.behindyouinc.org/contribute

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