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COVID-19: Advice and resources for Oregon workers and small businesses

While I travel a lot and recently moved away, I consider Portland, Oregon my home. My daughter lives in Portland, as do many friends and small businesses I love. I want to help, so I have put together this list of COVID-19 resources to help Portland’s workers and small-business owners navigate and survive this difficult time.*

The Lowdown for Workers

If you are still physically reporting to work:

Employers have a legal duty to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause the death or serious physical harm to employees. If you have a safety concern about your exposure to COVID-19 and are unable to resolve it with your employer, you can file a complaint with the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration. The law prohibits retaliation by your employer against you for raising concerns or filing a complaint.

Map of confirmed cases in the state of Oregon by counties as of March 27, 2020. Note that this map might be not up to date, as this is a current outbreak.
Map of confirmed cases in the state of Oregon by counties as of March 27, 2020. Note that this map might be not up to date, as this is a current outbreak. Source: Wikipedia.

If your workplace remains open, but you are unable to report to work:

Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, you are entitled to up to 80 hours of sick leave at your regular rate (up to $511 per day), if you are:

  • subject to a government-mandated COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order;
  • advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19; or
  • have COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking medical diagnosis.

You are entitled to up to 80 hours of sick leave at two-thirds of your pay (up to $200 per day) if you are:

  • unable to work due to the need to care for an individual subject to quarantine or to care for a child out of school or childcare due to COVID-19; or
  • “experiencing a substantially similar condition,” as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

If you have been with your employer for at least 30 calendar days, you are entitled to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds pay (up to $200 per day) if you are unable to work due to the need to care for a child out of school or childcare due to COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Labor has instructions for filing a complaint for violations of the sick leave law, or if your employer retaliates against you for seeking or asserting your right to sick leave.

Under Oregon Law, you are entitled to sick leave if:

  • you are ill;
  • you need to care for a family member who is ill; or
  • your workplace or your child’s school or childcare is closed due to a public health emergency.

Employers must provide one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, after you have been employed more than 90 days. But the law only requires paid sick leave if your employer has more than 10 employees (or more than six in Portland). The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has instructions for filing a complaint for violations of the Oregon sick leave law, or if your employer retaliates against you for seeking or asserting your right to sick leave.

Confused? Me too. So I made this chart of the basic provisions of the relevant paid leave laws.

This chart does not cover all of the details. Also note that the federal law is new, so its interaction with the older Oregon protections is unclear. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has issued guidance on the Oregon law, and the Federal Department of Labor has published FAQs on the federal law.

If use up all of your paid leave, you may qualify under Oregon or federal law for 12 weeks of unpaid “protected” leave (during which you keep your benefits and the law prohibits employers from firing you because you are unable to work). If your employer remains in business, then they must return you to your former position, or one that is substantially equivalent. There are differences between the Oregon and federal laws, which the chart below summarizes.

These are general descriptions only. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has further guidance on the Oregon and federal family leave laws, and the U.S. Department of Labor has a series of FAQs.

For more information, see these FAQs on COVID-19 and your rights as an employee put together by an employment law firm. (This is not an endorsement of this firm.)

If your workplace remains open, but you are afraid to report to work:

None of the sick leave protections are likely to apply if you are seeking leave solely for preventative purposes. The Oregon Employment Department, however, encourages people in this situation to file a claim for unemployment benefits. Its FAQs on COVID-related unemployment insurance benefits state that it will investigate such claims to determine if applicants are eligible. As noted above, if you have good faith, safety concern and are unable to resolve it with your employer, you can file a complaint with the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration. The law prohibits retaliation by your employer against you for raising concerns or filing a complaint.

If your workplace has temporarily closed:

As explained above, under Oregon Law, you are entitled to sick leave if your workplace is closed due to a public health emergency. But the law only requires paid sick leave if your employer has more than 10 employees (or more than six in Portland). If you are not receiving any paid leave, or your paid leave has run out, you should file a claim for unemployment benefits. Employees who are temporarily laid off because their employers have stopped operating for a short period of time due to a government requirement or for cleaning following a COVID-19 exposure, and who stay in touch with their employers, may be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, eligible workers (including part-time and self-employed workers) will get an extra $600 per week in addition to any state unemployment benefits they receive — for a period of up to four months. More information on COVID-19 related unemployment claims in Oregon is available from Oregon Employment Department. More details on the CARES Act are available in these FAQs by the New York Times.

If you are self-employed and unable to work:

Under the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, self-employed workers are eligible for unemployment benefits. More information on COVID-19 related unemployment claims in Oregon is available from Oregon Employment Department. More details on the CARES Act are available in these FAQs by the New York Times. Also check out these resources for freelance artists and gig workers.

If you have been laid off:

Oregon employers must pay workers their final paychecks by the close of the next business day during a layoff expected to last more than 35 days. Employers do not have to pay out unused sick time or vacation time upon termination unless they’ve committed to doing so in their policies. If you are not paid your final paycheck, or all of the wages owed in that check, you can file a wage complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Also, apply for unemployment benefits. Under CARES Act, eligible workers (including part-time and self-employed workers) will get an extra $600 per week in addition to any state unemployment benefits they receive — for a period of up to four months. More information on COVID-19 related unemployment claims in Oregon is available from Oregon Employment Department. More details on the CARES Act are available in these FAQs by the New York Times.

Where the money goes in the CARES Act coronavirus stimulus bill. Source: r/dataisbeautiful.

If you have COVID-19 and were infected at your workplace:

You may be eligible for workers’ compensation. File a claim with Workers’ Compensation Division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services. The law prohibits retaliation by your employer against you for raising concerns or filing a complaint.

If you are worried about paying your bills:

Under the CARES Act, you are eligible for a one-time payment of $1,200 if you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, have a Social Security number and earn $75,000 or less. (Above that figure, the payment decreases until it stops altogether for individuals earning $99,000 or more.)  More details are available in these FAQs by the New York Times.

  • Rent Help: Multnomah County has enacted a moratorium on all residential evictions for nonpayment of rent. After the moratorium ends, you will have to pay the landlord all of the rent and utilities that built up during the emergency within six months from the date that Multnomah County declares that the emergency is over. Consult the County’s FAQs and this explainer from Legal Aid Services of Oregon on how to benefit from its protection. The Community Alliance of Tenants also has resources and a hotline. In addition, the federal CARES Act includes a 120-day, nationwide eviction moratorium for renters whose landlords have mortgages backed or owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or other federal entities.
  • Student Loans: The CARES Act included an automatic suspension until September 30 for any student loan held by the federal government. More details are available in these FAQs by the New York Times.
  • Other Bills: This resource from the State of Oregon collects information on companies that are offering relief for utility, phone and internet bills. The Oregon Department of Human Services has information on food assistance and other programs.
  • Other financial assistance: The Portland Restaurant Alliance has a compiled list of grant and relief funds for artists, agricultural workers, bartenders, restaurant workers, and other tipped workers.

The Lowdown for Small Businesses

If you remain open and employees are reporting to work:

First, make sure you are complying with the stay-at-home order currently in effect by consulting this explanation. If employees are physically reporting to work, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety for most Oregon businesses, has compiled COVID-19 related workplace safety resources for employers, including recently published federal guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, and specific guidance for construction contractors. In addition, the Oregon Department of Public Health has put together cleaning tips for food service businesses, as well as FAQs on the governor’s order prohibiting on-site food service.

For more information on avoiding discriminatory conduct when addressing specific workplace safety issues, such as what to do if an employee is suspected of having the virus, consult this guidance provided by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has put out FAQs that cover issues such as working hours and employer obligations when employees are asked to work from home.

If you have closed temporarily:

See the charts and resources above about state and federal employee leave laws. Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, summarized above, you are required to provide paid leave for certain COVID-19 related employee absences. You can recover the cost of this paid leave (plus the cost of employer-paid health insurance premiums during leave) through a refundable tax credit. More details on the refund are available from the IRS. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you are eligible for an exemption from the 10-week partial paid leave requirement for school closings or childcare unavailability if complying would jeopardize the ability of your business to continue.

The U.S. Department of Labor has more information and a series of FAQs on the law, but has not yet issued rules regarding the exemption for businesses with fewer then 50 employees. The Department of Labor has, however, issued a temporary non-enforcement policy, in effect until April 17, under which it will not bring an enforcement action against any employer for violations of the Act so long as the employer has acted reasonably and in good faith to comply.

For more information, see these FAQs on COVID-19 and your obligations as an employer put together by an employment law firm. (This is not an endorsement of this firm.) In addition, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries offers fact sheets to help employers navigate a range of employment law-related issues.

If you have business interruption insurance:

You are not likely to be covered because most business interruption insurance only covers loss of income that is the result of physical damage to property. The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services has issued FAQs that address business interruption insurance and COVID-19.

If you are worried about paying your bills:

The CARES Act provides for small business grants of up to $10,000 in emergency funds and includes a small business “paycheck protection” loan program. The program makes federally guaranteed loans of up to $10 million per business available until June 30 to small businesses that pledge to retain workers. More details are available in this Forbes article. The Small Business Administration does not yet have specific details on the program, but continue to check its COVID-19 Small Business Guidance page for more information.

In addition, Beaverton and Portland also offer some assistance. Businesses in Beaverton that the government ordered closed as a result of coronavirus restrictions can apply online for $2,500 per month in rent or mortgage reimbursement. The Portland Small Business Relief Fund will provide grants up to $10,000 and no interest loans up to $50,000 for businesses impacted by coronavirus. Applications open on March 30. Apply as soon as you are able. (Hillsboro’s emergency relief program ceased taking applications after one day because the total requested was more than double the amount available.) A list of other financial assistance programs is available from Business Oregon, which also has put together practical advice on how businesses can survive the pandemic. Also see the resources compiled by the Oregon Economic Development Association and Prosper Portland.

If you encounter price gouging:

Oregon law prohibits price gouging when an emergency prevents the availability of essential consumer products and services. On March 17, Governor Brown invoked the protections of the law by declaring that an “abnormal disruption of the market,” has existed in Oregon since January 30, 2020. You can report price gouging on the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection hotline, at 503–378–8442.

*Disclaimer: The COVID-19 situation may prompt further government action at the local, state or federal level. This information, and the resources I link to here, may become out of date. Although I am a lawyer, these resources are not legal advice. If you want legal advice, please seek out an Oregon-licensed attorney. I am not currently practicing law in Oregon, my law license there is inactive, so please do not seek out my legal advice or representation. Please do not ask me for a referral to a lawyer. While I have linked to some resources posted by law firms, this is not an endorsement or recommendation. If you have questions or a suggested addition, please share them in comments and I will try to address them if I can.

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