Yesterday, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) in response to the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 outbreak. The legislation covers several areas, but critical for employers are two new sick leave benefits set to take effect no later than April 2, 2020.
Who is Covered?
The law requires all employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two new types of benefit—paid sick leave and paid family medical leave. However, the Secretary of Labor does have the discretion to exempt some healthcare providers or small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
What is the Paid Sick Leave Benefit?
Covered employers must provide essentially two weeks of paid leave—80 hours for full-time employees, and for part-time employees the number of hours they work over an average two week period. The amount of paid leave depends upon what it is being used for. If the employee is subject to a government quarantine order, has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis, the leave must be paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay, or $511.00 per day ($5,110.00 in the aggregate), whichever is less.
If the employee needs leave in order to care for an individual who is subject to quarantine or isolation order, to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19, or is experiencing a similar condition later specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the leave must be paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay, or $200.00 per day ($2,000.00 in the aggregate), whichever is less.
The employer may not require an employee to find a replacement to cover the missed work, and cannot require the use of other paid leave provided by the employer.
What is the Paid Family Medical Leave Benefit?
Covered employers must allow employees who are unable to work due to need to take care of a child under 18 whose school or place of care has been closed due to COVID-19 to use FMLA leave. Unlike traditional FMLA leave, any employee who has been employed at least 30 calendar days is eligible to utilize FMLA leave for this purpose. Furthermore, unlike traditional FMLA leave, the leave provided under the FFCRA is a paid benefit. The benefit is not paid for the first 10 days (during which the employee could utilize the new paid sick leave benefit), but any subsequent leave is to be paid at no less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, or $200.00 per day ($10,000.00 in the aggregate), whichever is less.
Can the New Paid Sick Leave or Paid Family Medical Leave Benefits be Used for Any Illness?
No. The new leave benefits only apply where an employee is unable to work, or telework, due to circumstances related to COVID-19.
Are the New Paid Sick Leave or Paid Family Medical Leave Benefits Permanent?
No. These requirements expire December 31, 2020. There is no carry-over from one year to the next, and the benefits terminate once the employee no longer needs the sick time.
Is There Help for Employers in Providing These Benefits?
Yes. The bill provides for a quarterly tax credit for 100% of the amount of Paid Sick Leave and Paid Family Medical Leave Benefits paid by the employer.
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