The recently enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act aims to help workers by imposing new leave obligations on employers.
The new law extends benefits to workers who are being laid off or choosing to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes in federal leave law go into effect on April 2 and are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.
The law requires that all employers that have fewer than 500 employees must provide workers who have a qualifying Coronavirus-related need with up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 10 weeks of which also must be paid leave.
Keep in mind that this requirement includes businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Previously these business had no FMLA requirements but they now are responsible for complying with certain elements of that law.
This coverage applies to employees who go into quarantine, care for a family member in quarantine or for children whose schools are closed.
The law defines qualifying need as leave needed to comply with a recommendation or order by a public official or a health care provider holding that the physical presence of the employee on the job would jeopardize the health of other employees by exposing them to the Coronavirus.
The benefits also are available to employees whose family members’ presence in the community would jeopardize the health of others because of the exposure of the family member to coronavirus or because they exhibit symptoms.
Under the law, the first 14 days for which an employee takes coronavirus leave may be unpaid FMLA leave, but the employee also may choose to substitute paid leave for the Coronavirus FMLA leave during that time.
Following the first 14 days of Coronavirus FMLA leave, the employer must provide paid leave in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay, based on of the number of hours the employee would otherwise be normally scheduled to show up for work.
The FMLA Expansion Act contains a calculation formula for employees who have varying workweek schedules.
Coronavirus-related paid sick leave must be in addition to the employer’s other existing paid leave policies. Employers can’t require workers to exhaust other employer-provided paid leave before using Coronavirus-related paid sick leave, and they are not allowed to amend their paid leave policies in such a way that makes the benefits run concurrently
There are a few exceptions embedded in the new law that employers need to keep in mind, according to attorneys Rebecca Baker, Amy Karff Halevy and Robert Nichols from the law firm of Bracewell.
For example, the U.S. Department of Labor can choose to exempt from the leave requirements small businesses that have fewer than 50 employees if it finds that imposition of the law would jeopardize the viability of those businesses.
The legislation also requires employers to post a notice, that will be prepared by the Secretary of Labor, informing employees of their leave rights under the law
It calls for providing employers with tax credits for 100% of what they pay out to employees under the new law, aimed at helping them reduce the ultimate cost of providing the benefits.
In addition, for unionized employers who are subject to multiemployer collective bargaining agreements, the employer can comply with the act by making contributions to a multiemployer fund, plan or program.