Congress passed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) as part of its legislative initiative to address the impact of COVID-19 in our communities and at work. The Act seeks to address multiple national concerns by requiring certain action and the provision of benefits during the period April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Importantly in the employment context, the Act provides for expanded family medical leave coverage and paid sick leave.
In general, the Act requires covered employers to provide employees paid sick leave and expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for certain COVID-19 related reasons. These emergency benefits are broken down into two (2) parts:
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave
- Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion
Determining What Businesses Are Covered Employers
Certain public employers and private employers with 500 or less employees are generally covered and must comply with the Act’s provisions. The Act does not apply to private employers with more than 500 employees, and employers with less than 50 employees can apply for an exemption for employee leave due to school closings. Health care providers and emergency responders may also be exempted or have the ability to opt out of certain requirements. As for federal employees, most are eligible for sick leave benefits but not the expanded family and medical leave benefits.
COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Benefits
The COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave provisions require covered employers to provide up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave to all employees who are unable to work (including telework) because of COVID-19 related:
- Quarantine or isolation orders issued by the government
- Self-quarantine advised by a health care provider
- Symptoms while seeking a medical diagnosis
- Care for a person subject to quarantine or isolations orders by government and health care providers
- Care for a child whose school or daycare is closed
- Other substantially-similar conditions as may be specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Full time employees are eligible for 80 hours of leave. Part time employees are eligible for leave hours based on their average hours worked over a two week period.
Employees must be paid their regular rate of pay if they are unable to work due to their own COVID-19 symptoms or having been quarantined. Pay is capped at $511 per day and a total of $5,110 over the two-week period.
Employees who are unable to work because of their need to care for someone who is under quarantine or care for a child whose school is closed due to COVID-19 must be paid at two-thirds their regular rate of pay. Pay is capped at $200 per day and a total of $2,000 over the two-week period.
Employees entitled to and who use paid sick leave benefits due to COVID-19 cannot be terminated or otherwise retaliated against.
Self-employed persons can claim a sick leave tax credit for up to 10 days.
COVID-19 Expanded Family and Medical Leave Benefits
The Act also temporarily expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). All employers who are covered under the Act must provide up to 12 weeks of leave during the period April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020, to employees who are unable to work (or telework) because of a need to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19. An employee must have been employed for at least 30 days to be eligible for this expanded FMLA benefit.
If an employer is otherwise covered by the FMLA, these available 12 weeks are included in (not in addition to) the 12 weeks of leave provided by the standard FMLA provisions.
The first two weeks of leave under the expanded FMLA provision may be unpaid. The employee may use other paid leave available during this time, including the paid sick leave benefits discussed above. The remaining 10 weeks of the available 12 weeks must be paid at two-thirds regular pay.
Employee leave from work to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19 is job protected. This means an employee cannot be terminated or otherwise retaliated against for taking such leave.
Self-employed persons can claim a tax credit for up to 10 weeks of leave.
These are general guidelines. As with most all laws, there are exceptions, exemptions, caps, and other factors which will ultimately determine whether the Act applies in a given situation. Whether you are a small business or an employee, if you are experiencing COVID-19 related issues at work, you need to speak to an experienced employment lawyer to understand your rights and/or obligations. Attorney Tara Swartz is here to help. Call Swartz Law at 617-871-1500 or click here to schedule a consultation.