If you have to be in quarantine because you were exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19) at work—or even if your employer asked you to stay home because of possible exposure but didn’t offer the option of working remotely—you may be facing lost income. Although the expanded sick leave provided under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired at the end of 2020, many people are still eligible for paid sick leave through their employers.
Employees in some states may be eligible for unemployment benefits while under mandated quarantine. In a few states with paid medical or temporary disability leave programs (like California, New York, and Hawaii), eligible employees should be able to get benefits when they've been directed to quarantine by a public health officer or medical professional. New York also requires many employers to provide paid quarantine leave for COVID-19.
If you don’t have access to sick leave, however, you may be wondering if you could get temporary disability payments through workers’ compensation to help cover your wage loss. Unfortunately, it could be very difficult to get these benefits in most states unless you’re a healthcare provider or first responder who treated an infected person.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials or insurers in some states—including Washington and Kentucky—announced policies to make it clear that healthcare workers and first responders would be able to get workers’ comp wage-replacement benefits while in quarantine because of direct, on-the-job exposure to an infected patient. A few other states have passed laws that make it easier for essential employees to qualify for workers' comp coverage for COVID-19 when they contract the illness, but it's not always clear whether those laws would cover employees who are in quarantine without a positive test or diagnosis.
Other employees might be able to demonstrate that they qualify for workers’ comp benefits for COVID-19 based on a documented workplace exposure, but their cases would have to decided based on the specific circumstances. In New Jersey, for instance, employees who have been directed to self-quarantine after a known exposure to the virus during the course of their work could be eligible for workers' comp.
States have different waiting periods before employees can collect temporary disability benefits. You usually have to be off work for somewhere between three and seven days before you can collect benefits; however, if you’re out for a longer time (generally 14 to 21 days), you’ll get benefits from the beginning of the period when you couldn’t work.
Because quarantines for COVID-19 exposure are generally 10 to 14 days, the waiting period could mean that you won’t collect benefits for the entire time, depending on your state's requirements. In Washington State, for instance, you wouldn’t receive benefits for the first three days of quarantine unless you had to stay off work on the 14th day after you were exposed to the virus.