By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – With thousands staying home from work every day because of the Omicron variant of COVID, many wonder if they are eligible for paid sick days.

The policies are not as friendly to workers today as they were when the pandemic first began.

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With so many people coming down with COVID, the last thing anyone needs is pressure from a boss to return to work too soon – or a sick worker feeling forced back to work because of an employer’s refusal to provide sufficient paid time off.

When “Jack” tested positive for COVID right after Christmas, his boss correctly told him to stay home, but then he got the bad news: he would not be paid during his COVID sick leave.

“They said I needed to be off,” Jack told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday. “I had a doctor’s excuse until tomorrow, which is the 6th, and was notified days later that since I didn’t have any more PTO, paid time off, that I would not be getting paid for the last week of the year.”

In 2020, employers were prohibited by federal law from penalizing employees with COVID, and in 2021 President Biden’s American Rescue Plan actually reimbursed many employers for giving paid COVID leave to their employees.

But that expired on Sept. 30.

“Now the options are really up to the organizations and the employer to decide what they would like to mandate as to their PTO policies,” says Liz Lamping, executive director of the Pittsburgh Human Resources Association.

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Lamping says companies are free to set their own policies, sometimes that encourage sick people to go to work if they don’t want to lose pay or personal time off or the company requires it.

That’s what happened to Jack’s wife who also had COVID.

“She needed to be out of work until Thursday, but her employer decided otherwise that you need to come back. She was at work Monday and Tuesday but due to illness she was not able to go today,” said Jack.

With no federal or state laws to tell them otherwise, says Lamping, employers are on their own.

“Since that time, it has all been at will or in a case by case situation by the employer with what it is they are going to decide to do, which is why this has become such an important topic for HR professionals,” says Lamping.

There’s some good news if you work full-time for a company with 50-plus employees in the city of Pittsburgh. A city ordinance sponsored by Councilman Bobby Wilson requires ten paid sick days for COVID.

“Employers should not be requiring their employees to figure out whether they’re going to take their personal days, or their vacation days, or lack thereof. They may not have any of those days available,” says Wilson. “This is a public health effort to keep people in place so they are not being exposed.”

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This city law also applies to any worker who spends more than half their time working in the city even if their company is based outside the city. But this ordinance expires on July 29.