What if an employee doesn’t want to return to work because they’re self-quarantining?

It’s very important that employers begin an interactive process and ask, “Why?” Perhaps the employee can’t return to work because they’ve been ordered by their county to self-quarantine due to contact with a COVID-19-positive individual; they’ve recently traveled outside the country; or the employee has an underlying medical condition that places them at higher risk to COVID-19 complications.

Employers should determine why the employee isn’t returning to work because their reasoning will determine the employer’s obligations.

For example, California requires employers with more than 25 employees to provide COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave to employees for COVID-19-related qualifying reasons, including when the employee is unable to work or telework because they are:

  1. Subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19 as defined by federal, state or local government order/guidance.
  2. Advised by a health care provider to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.
  3. Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. Caring for a family member who is subject to an order or guidance described in qualifying reason No. 1, or who has been advised to isolate or quarantine as described in reason No. 2.
  5. Caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or otherwise unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19 on the premises.
  6. Attending an appointment for themselves or a family member to receive a vaccine or a vaccine booster for protection against COVID-19, subject to the vaccine-related leave limitation described under Leave Amounts below.
  7. Experiencing symptoms, or caring for a family member experiencing symptoms, related to a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine booster that prevent the employee from working or teleworking, subject to the vaccine-related leave limitation described under Leave Amounts below.

This leave requirement became effective February 19, 2022. It’s retroactive to January 1, 2022 and extends through September 30, 2022. Employers can read more about COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave in COVID-19: Federal, State and Local Leave Issues.

Additionally, if an employee is caring for a family member who’s positive for COVID-19, they may be entitled to leave under family and medical leave laws such as the California Family Rights Act or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act depending on the circumstances.

Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says if an employee isn’t coming in to work because they have an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk, then employers must engage in the interactive process and possibly provide leave as a reasonable accommodation. The California Civil Rights Department (formerly the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or DFEH) included similar guidance in a COVID-19 FAQ.

If none of the above scenarios apply, then deciding what to do is at the employer’s discretion, but employers must gather a lot of information before reaching that step.

Read more in Reasonable Accommodation During COVID-19 Pandemic.

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