Can I Be Fired During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Julie Rice – Blog 1(1)

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health care, financial markets, and entire regimes across the globe, and it’s certainly starting to hit close to home for families throughout Georgia. School closures, business shutdowns, restaurant layoffs, and other consequences have left many employees in a state of upheaval as they worry about job security. For many companies, allowing workers to do their jobs remotely isn’t practical. Other organizations may not have the manpower to account for stay-at-home orders by authorities, and some are forcing staff to take vacation or unpaid time off.

The strain has already taken a significant toll for many households and left employees wondering “Can I Be Fired During the Coronavirus Outbreak?” The answer is far from easy, though a Georgia employment law attorney can provide some guidance. An overview of the current situation may be helpful.

Departures from Default Rules: Like all other US states and the District of Columbia, Georgia is an employment at will state. An employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason that’s not illegal. If you don’t show up for work, you could be fired under this default rule. However, considering the issue of COVID-19 and the workplace, there’s an exception through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Passed in 1993, FMLA will protect your job if you need to take time off for your own illness or to care for a family member who’s sick. The downside is that your employer isn’t required to pay you.

To specifically respond to how COVID-19 has affected the workplace, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) on March 18 2020. The statute is also an exception to the employment at will doctrine, since you cannot be fired if you’re a qualifying employee who is unable to work for specified reasons related to the pandemic. It applies to all private employers with less than 500 workers, as well as certain public employers.

Provisions for ALL Employees: Under FFCRA, employers must grant all workers two weeks of paid sick leave as follows:

  • If you’re quarantined, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and/or seeking medical care, the employer must pay your regular rate of pay; and,
  • You can obtain two-thirds your regular wages if you are unable to work because you need to care for someone in quarantine, or if you need to care for your child due to school closures.

Applicability to Employees for Longer Than 30 Days: Longer-term workers enjoy greater protections under FFCRA under certain circumstances. Your employer must give you up to 10 additional weeks of paid leave at two-thirds your regular pay if you can’t work because you need to care for a child while school is out.

Note that employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for an exemption from these requirements if providing paid leave would put the company in jeopardy of going out of business. Plus, you should keep in mind that you may not qualify if you can perform your job by working remotely.

You Can Count on a Georgia Employment Law Attorney
At the Vaughn Law Firm, our team knows that we’ll all make it through this emergency and be stronger for our resolve. In the meantime, we understand that there are many employees throughout Georgia that didn’t get much notice that they’d be in a tough financial situation because of joblessness. Fortunately, you may have options – even in the face of highly unusual circumstances. If your employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact our office in Decatur, GA to set up a free consultation. You can reach us by calling 877.615.9495 or going online.