COVID-19 and Worker Rights
Authored By: Alaska Legal Services
Questions about worker rights and COVID-19.
- Can my employer tell me to stay home from work?
- If my employer says I cannot come in to work, but I am unable to work from home, will I get paid?
- Do I have to use paid time off or sick leave if my employer sends me home due to COVID-19?
- What if I don’t have paid time off or paid sick leave?
- I’m a contract employee and my boss has halted business. What are my rights?
- Can I take Family Medical Leave because of COVID-19?
- Can a worker take FMLA and unemployment?
- Do I have to produce a doctor’s note to return to work?
- Can I refuse to work due to a fear of being infected with COVID-19?
- Can I file for unemployment if I don’t have work due to COVID-19?
Yes, your employer can ask you to stay home due to COVID-19. You may be asked to stay home if:
- Your job allows you to telework
- You have symptoms similar to COVID-19 symptoms
- You have had exposure to someone who has shown COVID-19 symptoms
- You have recently traveled to an area with widespread sustained transmission (check the CDC for a current list)
- Your place of employment determines there is a public health risk to continuing normal operations.
For specific information about your place of employment, contact your employer or human resource office. Healthcare professionals may be held to different standards and guidelines. For more information visit the CDC.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, your employer is only required to pay you for the hours you worked in a week. However, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are unable to work due to COVID-19. For more information about unemployment benefits, or to apply, see the Alaska Department of Labor website, call the nearest claim center, or try (888) 252-2557. An online application is available.
If you are unable to work due to COVID-19 and cannot work remotely, you may be asked to use your paid time off or sick leave for the absence. You should review your employee handbook for specific time off and sick policies. Keep a record of all days and hours missed due to COVID-19 and any correspondence with your employer regarding your work status. These records may be important if the law changes.
Your employer is not required to pay you or provide you sick leave. However, new legislation has made some workers eligible for sick leave because of COVID-19. You can talk to your employer about your options if you do not have paid time off or paid sick leave. You may also apply for unemployment benefits. For more information about unemployment benefits, or to apply, see the Alaska Department of Labor website, call the nearest claim center, or try (888) 252-2557. An online application is available.
Your options are limited to the terms of your employment contract. You should review that contract to see if there is information that covers circumstances when the employer halts business. In some circumstances, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. For more information about unemployment benefits, or to apply, see the Alaska Department of Labor website, call the nearest claim center, or try (888) 252-2557. An online application is available.
Recent legislation in response to COVID-19 has made many more people eligible for paid medical leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Starting no later than April 2, 2020:
Up to two weeks of paid sick leave are available to a worker who:
- Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
- Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis; or
- Is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2).
Up to 12 weeks of leave is available to a worker who:
- is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.
For more information see the U.S. Department of Labor’s explanation page, here.
No, not at the same time. Employees who are on voluntary leave of absence, including FMLA, are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
An employer does not need a doctor’s note to let you return to work. If you have displayed COVID-19 symptoms, you need to wait at least 72 hours after the symptoms have subsided before returning to work or public spaces. If an employer believes you cannot perform your duties without infecting others, your employer may refuse to allow you to return.
If you are on FMLA leave, you will need to follow those guidelines for returning to work.
Maybe. If you believe your workplace is unsafe and you refuse to work, you may be protected from retaliation. However, most workplaces do not pose real danger of death or serious injury due to COVID-19. For more information on workplace safety and COVID-19, visit https://www.osha.gov/.
Yes. Alaska is extending unemployment benefits to individuals who are told to leave work without pay due to COVID-19. Even if your employer tells you that you can return to work when the business reopens, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. If you apply and receive unemployment benefits, you will be responsible for staying in contact with your employer and returning to work as soon as your employer allows you to. If you are working remotely, the benefits are not available to you. For more information about unemployment benefits, or to apply, see the Alaska Department of Labor website, call the nearest claim center, or try (888) 252-2557. An online application is available.
For more information about worker rights and COVID-19, visit:
For more information about the Family Medical Leave Act, visit:
For more information on how to protect you and your family from COVID-19, visit:
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ COVID-19 information site.
Visit the webpage of your City, Borough, or Village for local updates or emergency orders. The Alaska Communities directory has links to many local websites.