Photo by Kelly Sikkema
  1. What medical documentation should employees provide to support a request for reasonable accommodation (for example, to work remotely or take leave) because they are disabled by COVID-19?

While employers may generally require an employee to provide medical documentation confirming the existence of a disability and the need for reasonable accommodation, such documentation may be difficult to obtain due to hospitals and medical providers being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent employers typically require medical documentation in order to grant reasonable accommodations, the DFEH has recommended waiving such requirements until such time the employee can reasonably obtain the documentation.

2. Does California law require that employers not covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
provide paid sick leave?

Yes. Subject to limited exceptions, California law requires that employers provide all employees with at least 3 days (or 24 hours) of paid sick leave a year. Some cities, such as Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica require that employers provide more than three sick days. In addition, several cities, including Long Beach, San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, have passed local ordinances that mirror the requirements of the FFCRA, but for employers with more than 500 employees.

3. Can an employer require an employee to use available paid sick leave for a COVID-19 related absence?

No. Based on guidance from California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office (DLSE), the choice to utilize paid sick leave is the employee’s decision. If an employee chooses to use sick leave, however, the employer may require the employee to take paid sick leave in at least 2 hour increments. However, the amount of leave to take is ultimately up to the employee.

4. Can an employer require an employee to use available vacation time for a COVID-19 related absence?

It depends. Based on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, employers that are required to provide paid sick leave under the FFCRA may not require employees to first use available vacation time for a COVID-19 related absence. Similarly, Governor Newsom’s April 16, 2020 Executive Order requiring that employers provide paid sick leave to Food Sector Workers explicitly prohibits employers from requiring such workers to use any accrued paid time off or vacation time before using the supplemental paid sick leave or in lieu of.

5. Are employees who are sent home early due to work being slow, or due to a concern related to COVID-19,
entitled to compensation?

Yes. You must pay an employee for all hours worked. Further, as noted above, for exempt employees, if they work at all within the workweek, they likely are entitled to their full salary for the workweek.
For non-exempt employees, not only does an employer have to pay for time the employee actually worked before being sent home, but an employer also must consider reporting time requirements under California law. Generally, reporting time requirements require an employee that reports to work, and is thereafter sent home, to be paid at least half their scheduled shift wages (subject to a minimum of two and maximum of four hours of reporting time pay).