Florida coronavirus: When are nurses entitled to paid sick leave under new federal law?

Investigations

The Seminole Pavilian Rehabiliation & Nursing Services at Freedom Square is shown Saturday, May 9, 2020, in Seminole, Fla. Several patients and an employee have died from the coronavirus at the facility. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side is hearing from more Tampa Bay area health care workers who say they contracted coronavirus and ultimately were sent home without pay. We’re breaking down what their rights are under a new federal law.

“I gave bed baths…I put them on toilets, I put bedpans down,” said Dzemila Ahmetovic, a certified nursing assistant. “My hall wasn’t supposed to be the infected hall but it ended up being.”

Ahmetovic says she worked at Freedom Square full-time.

According to state records, more people have died at the facility than any other nursing home in Florida.

Ahmetovic, a mom, tested positive on April 17. She says while she was isolated and recovering, she was told she had no more paid sick leave.

“I need to get paid because I need to pay my bills,” said Ahmetovic. “I want you to figure out what is going on…how I can get paid.”

Tampa-based Employment Attorney Terin Cremer helped 8 On Your Side break down the new coronavirus law.

“The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act was signed into law by President Trump,” she said.

Starting April 1, smaller employers had to provide two weeks of emergency paid sick leave.

But this doesn’t apply to bigger companies with more than 500 workers. In that case, you’re stuck with your existing policy.

We asked about the thinking behind this exclusion in Washington.

“Most likely larger employers already have some sort of a paid sick leave policy in place, they’re usually more robust with their benefits,” said Cremer.

8 On Your Side reached out to the nursing home about this and other similar allegations from staff members.

Michael Mason, the executive director of Freedom Square, says sick workers can get an extra week of paid time off before they’ve earned it. They can also apply for short or long-term disability.

Here’s their full statement:

Freedom Square is proud of the work our caregivers provide to residents every day. We continue to support our team throughout these challenging times. We are aware of the protections provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for small employers. As a large healthcare employer, Freedom Square continues to operate using our existing employment benefits and policies.

At this time and in general, employees are allowed to accumulate up to 40 hours of negative paid time off should they exhaust their accumulated paid time off hours. Once an employee exhausts their paid time off, possibly opting for the negative accrual, the employee may be eligible for other benefits such as short term or long term disability, depending on their election to participate and according to the terms of the plan.

Regarding your inquiry, former employees, pursuant to our separation of employment policy, are paid for all accrued leave in their final paycheck. We thank you for reaching out and allowing us to clarify.

Ahmetovic is no longer with Freedom Square. 8 On Your Side is working to see if she’s entitled to any more paid time off.

If you have a nursing home tip for our investigative reporter, send an email to MSaeidi@WFLA.com.

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