The Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act (EWELA) would ensure that the frontline and essential workers during this pandemic can quarantine, care for a loved one with COVID-19, or care for a child who is distance learning or whose childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19, without financial burden. Chief authored by Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope), HF 41 was introduced in the Minnesota House on January 12, 2021. The Senate version of the bill, SF 331, was filed on January 25, 2021, by chief author Senator Erin Murphy (DFL – Saint Paul).
“We need to take care of our essential workers like they take care of us.” – Rep. Cedrick Frazier
EWELA would provide emergency paid COVID-19 leave for essential workers that many don’t currently receive. Minnesota nurses and many other essential workers were left out of other COVID-related leave bills passed by the federal government earlier in the pandemic. They were either exempted from receiving federal COVID-19 leave covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), or their employers were not subject to FFCRA due to their size. EWELA would ensure they can quarantine safely and responsibly without dipping into their sick time, Paid Time Off (PTO) benefits, retirement savings, or going without pay entirely.
Currently, nurses only qualify for Workers’ Compensation if they acquired the virus at work and test positive. Nurses are frequently exposed to the virus, and it is critical that they quarantine when exhibiting any symptoms. To ensure the safety and health of patients and the community, there are numerous instances in which they quarantine without testing positive. In these circumstances, nurses are expected to use their own accrued PTO or sick time. In some cases, nurses have already spent down this benefit time and are forced to go without pay.
“My three-year-old son was diagnosed with COVID. I had to stay home to care for him as well as not bring COVID to my hospital. But because it wasn’t me who was positive, we used up all my time off. We had to dip into savings to pay the bills.” – Nichole Whitney, RN at District One hospital in Faribault
For workers considered full-time by their employer, the bill would provide 80 hours of retroactive emergency paid leave for leave taken between March 13, 2020, to March 31, 2021, and an additional 80 hours of emergency paid leave going forward from April 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021. Part-time workers would receive hours that are commensurate to what they work in an average two-week period and contract workers would be eligible for an amount of leave relative to the hours worked in a 6-month period. This leave would cover nurses who have either been instructed to quarantine or exhibit symptoms while waiting for test results but later test negative. It would also cover caring for a family member that contracts COVID-19 or for childcare if their school is closed.
The House version of the bill had its first hearing on January 27, 2021, in the Minnesota House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. Click here to watch the hearing
MNA members are needed to help keep the pressure on!
More hearings on both versions of the bill will take place soon. Nurses will be needed to testify before the Minnesota House and Senate, speak to the media about the importance of emergency leave, connect with their legislators to gain their support, and promote their stories on social media until the Act is signed into law.
If you have had to use sick time, PTO, retirement savings, or went without pay entirely because you had to quarantine, take time off to care for a family member with COVID-19, or help your children with school, contact MNA Political Organizers Zach Sias, 651-242-4352 email@example.com, or Cameron Fure, 651-252-5028 firstname.lastname@example.org,