You may have heard that on March 18, 2020, Congress enacted a second relief package designed to combat the economic and medical challenges created by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The new law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, includes two new laws that provide increased employment benefits to certain categories of Americans affected by COVID-19: the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family And Medical Leave Expansion Act.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
Which employers have to provide paid sick leave?
- Federal, state, and local governments and small and medium size companies employing fewer than 500 people
- While 89% of employees of large employers (i.e., businesses employing 500 or more employees) already have paid sick leave, employees in nationwide fast food chains and some big box retail stores (Costco, Home Depot, and Aldi being major exceptions) who don’t already provide paid sick leave benefits will not be required to provide it during the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Act does not cover independent contractors or many “gig economy” workers, such as ridesharing and delivery drivers. Those workers frequently do not have paid sick leave and they will not have it under the new law.
In what situations do employers need to provide paid sick leave?
- When an employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or has been ordered to self-quarantine by a health care provider or any government entity
- When an employee is caring for an individual who has been ordered to self-quarantine or has childcare responsibilities due to school closures caused by COVID-19
How much paid leave do employees get under the Act?
- Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick time if they are unable to work due to COVID-19.
- Part-time employees are entitled to paid sick time equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a two-week period.
Does this Act place limits on the leave provided under an employer’s existing leave policy?
- If an employer already has a paid sick leave policy in effect, then the Act provides leave benefits in addition to the existing policy. The employee may use the paid leave under the Act before using employer-provided paid leave, and the employer cannot require otherwise.
Are there any caps on the amount of pay the employer has pay employees on leave?
- An employee who is sick or quarantined is entitled to his or her regular rate of pay.
- An employee who is caring for a quarantined individual or has childcare responsibilities due to school closures is entitled to two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay during the leave, up to a maximum of $200 per day.
Is there a waiting period before an employee is eligible to take paid sick leave?
- Employees who qualify for the paid leave are entitled to it immediately regardless of how long they have been an employee.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
Are there any additional protections for employees who cannot work because they have childcare responsibilities due to school closures?
- Yes, the Act also amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which already guarantees covered employees up to 12 weeks of leave (that need not be paid leave) to deal with a serious medical condition (including a COVID-19 infection), to apply to employees who need to take leave because their child’s school is closed due to the pandemic.
How is the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act different from the existing FMLA?
- The existing FMLA only applies to employers with more than 50 employees and employees must be employed for one year before they are eligible for such leave.
- However, the provision extending the 12 weeks of leave to employees who need to take leave due to childcare responsibilities applies to all companies with fewer than 500 employees and to all governmental employers.
- Additionally, under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, instead of a year, employees only need to have been employed for 30 days to take childcare leave.
Is leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act paid?
- Under the Act, if an employee needs to take leave due to the closure of a child’s school because of the pandemic, the employee may use any accrued vacation, personal, or sick leave available to them for the first ten days of leave. After those first ten days, the employer must pay the employee two-thirds of an employee’s regular pay for the remainder of their leave.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Generally
When will these benefits become available?
- Most of the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act will go into effect by the end of March and will expire on December 31, 2020.
If you have questions about your right to paid leave during the pandemic, please contact the employment lawyers of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch. We advocate for you.