The Sick Days They Refuse to Give to Our Nurses
Will Hurt All of Us!
First – Are Nurses Entitled To Get Paid For Their COVID Sick Days?
Everyone in New York who has to stay home because they have (or might have) COVID 19 and works for a large employer (like a hospital) is entitled to 14 days of paid sick leave, and they are guaranteed job security after their quarantine ends. For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a federal law requiring paid sick leave, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that entitles employees two weeks of paid sick leave if they have COVID 19 or have symptoms and are seeking a diagnosis.
So Why Don’t Our Nurses Get These Benefits?
The federal law said that the Secretary of Labor could exempt certain “health care providers”1from these paid sick leave benefits. However, it was clear that Congress only intended to exempt doctors, or others who were licensed to provide health care independently, from this paid sick leave. Regulations, which are only meant to give guidance in applying the federal law, cracked the definition of “health care provider”, wide open basically including anyone who works in a hospital or a doctor’s office.2
This is an Outrage! Why Isn’t Anyone Doing Something About it?
- They are – The State of New York sued the federal government on this specific point, arguing that nurses, who are more likely to get COVID 19 than anyone else, should not have to choose between going to work and infecting others.
Second – How Long Should They Stay Home if They Get COVID 19?
Isn’t New York State Supporting Our Nurses on This?
They are not – The NYS Department of Health (State DOH) has issued guidelines that say hospitals can make nurses who actually have confirmed cases of COVID 19 come back to work 7 days after they initially experience symptoms. They are saying this despite the CDC guidance that the incubation period is 14 days. The hospitals are all in crisis mode, and they call all the nurses back to work the first minute the State DOH lets them do it, so the State DOH is really in control of how much recovery time the nurses get. To rub salt into the wound, most of the hospitals have been telling these nurses that they have to use their accrued sick days for the COVID absences, which would be a violation of the federal FFCRA law if nurses hadn’t been excluded from it, as described above.
Isn’t This Madness? Why Isn’t Something Being Done About it?
There Is – On April 20, 2020, the nurse’s union filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health (“DOH”), complaining about this precise issue, trying to forced them to change these guidelines. It is not only in the nurses’ best interests that our nurses get this time off – It’s obvious that they shouldn’t be going back to the hospital and exposing the other nurses, the doctors, the hospital personnel – as well as their patients, to the virus. Ironically, the State of New York is actively suing the federal government for excluding nurses from the federal paid sick leave law (above) but doing this to our nurses here at home. What’s wrong with this picture? This lawsuit brought against the State DOH and several other lawsuits against some of the hospitals, have raised numerous unsettling issues about the PPE shortages, which I will address in the next blog.
 FFCRA §§ 3105 (emergency family leave); 5102(a) (paid sick leave).
 85 Fed. Reg. at 19,351 (§ 826.30(c)(1).