COVID-19: Oregon workplace protections and resources

While our previous blog shared tips for supervisors during these days of the novel coronavirus, we grieve for the large number of people in Oregon and beyond who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. We also lament those who have lost all or part of their income due to those measures taken to avoid further spreading of COVID-19. Many workers have been furloughed or laid off, or have lost important contract work. We understand that, in addition to worries and fears about infection and illness, some are feeling even greater fears about financial instability and increased debt. Remember the following six steps:

  1. Allow yourself to feel sad. It’s okay to grieve. This is a big deal, and we need to acknowledge the pain and be okay with how we are feeling.
  2. Look at costs you can immediately control, and as you can, address your current budget, needs and shortages.
  3. It may be difficult to immediately take a big step, so take some small steps to begin to get through the day.
  4. Reach out to your network, including work-related contacts along with friends and family. Our social support is important to all of us at this time.
  5. Create rituals to help ease anxiety.
  6. Look for mental health support if that feels relieving or helpful. There are many free virtual services available.

Additionally, for those who have lost jobs or work hours, use your time to learn about changes to both Oregon and Federal Unemployment Insurance, including expansion some benefits not previously recognized for allowances (those with less of a work history, self-employed and “gig” workers). The time period people can receive benefits has also been extended to be available up to 39 weeks. Remember to keep a record of your successful and unsuccessful attempts to file weekly claims (in case the online/phone system is down or overstretched) so you have a record of all prior claims owed when you are able to reach a representative.

For those currently partially or fully employed – but concerned about potential job loss – it’s important to familiarize yourself with Oregon’s protections for workers. Briefly, those relevant to COVID-19 include the following: 

  • If your employer has at least 10 employees (or at least 6 employees if located in Portland) you have a right to paid sick leave. All accrued leave can be used if you have worked for your employer for at least 90 days. You can use any accrued sick leave for many reasons, including if you or a family member is sick, injured, experiencing mental illness, or need to visit the doctor. Oregon law gives all full-time employees at least 40 hours of sick leave per year. Employees can also use this leave if their workplace closes or scales back due to government-mandated closures. Learn more about COVID-19 Related Business Layoffs and Unemployment Insurance.
  • Some parents who are governmental employees or who work in commerce may be able to request funds from the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This provides some employees with the right to three months’ paid leave to care for children due to COVID-19 school closures.
  • Your employer may be able to continue to resume paying your wages if they have applied for and received a federal CARES Act loan. If you have been laid off or furloughed, make sure your employer knows how to contact you in case they are able to hire you back.
  • Employers are required to follow federal and state anti-discrimination laws, including being forbidden to treat anyone differently at work because of ethnicity or race. This includes requirements for employers to take action against coworkers who may be discriminating against another employee. Lawyers can be accessed at no cost through Oregon legal aid offices.

Mental health professionals offer advice to us when we lose a job or position, reminding us to acknowledge this to be a time of shock, disbelief and numbness. The article, What to Do If You’ve Lost Your Job Because of COVID-19 offers a few suggestions in the immediacy of being furloughed or losing work. While these steps won’t solve the immediate problem, they can be both important and useful.

Other relevant resources that may be helpful at this time:

There is no doubt that this is a scary and uncertain time for all of us, and financial worries magnify our unease. It is an important time to reach out to others – friends, family and neighbors – and help each other manage better through this tumultuous time.