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NM to pay employee back wages for virus-related absence

The Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A state employee will get about $1,400 in back wages after federal investigators found that New Mexico’s human services agency initially refused to grant her paid sick leave to care for her children amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday that the employee – a single mother of three – was unable to work from home while also watching her young children after the closure of schools.

The state Human Services Department – one of the agencies helping to coordinate New Mexico’s coronavirus response – initially refused to grant the leave the employee sought under a newly passed federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, federal officials said.

Human Services spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter said the question about the time off came before the new law took effect last month.

The state, she said, “sought assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor on the interpretation of the leave act and whether the leave could be granted,” she said. “All of this happened before the effective date of the act. The employee filled out the appropriate paperwork, and the leave was granted.”

The law, which went into effect April 1, allows employees to take leave when caring for children because of school closures, restrictions on child care centers or other disruptions caused by coronavirus.

Federal officials said the state cooperated with the investigation and resolved the dispute once it understood its responsibilities under the law.

“The U.S. Department of Labor will continue to educate employers, including state and local governments, through our website and extensive outreach efforts to ensure that workers and employers have the information they need about the benefits and protections of this new law,” Evelyn Sanchez, a wage and hour district director in the Labor Department, said in a written statement.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division has a website – www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic – to help employees and their employers understand the new law.


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