New Federal Sick Time and Paid Leave Law for Coronavirus

By Sean Gentry

In response to the health concerns and shelter in place orders affecting individuals and business through the United States, the federal government has passed new paid sick time laws that all employers need to be aware of, called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act).

This law goes into effect for April 2020 and continues through December 31, 2020.  It affects all employers with 500 or fewer employees.  In general, this law requires affected employers to provide their employees who cannot work (or remote work) with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.  Covered employers must provide to all employees:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours, or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.

    OR
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours, or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine, or care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition.

For the first category, the amount of sick time to be paid is 100% of the employee’s income up to a maximum of $511 daily and $5,110 total.

For the second category, the amount of sick time to be paid is 2/3rd of the employee’s income up to a maximum of $200 daily and $2,000 total.

However, in the case of employees caring for their child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons, then up to 12 weeks (i.e., 10 more weeks) of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave is available and paid at 2/3rd of the employee’s income up to a maximum of $200 daily and $12,000 total.

Employees are eligible for the extra 10 weeks of paid leave only if they have been employed for at least 30 days prior to their leave request.  Employees are eligible for the paid sick time regardless of length of employment.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has explained that “unable to work” means the employer has work for you and one of the COVID-19 qualifying reasons set forth above prevents you from being able to perform that work, either under normal circumstances at your normal worksite or by means of Remote work (“telework”).

Therefore, it appears that the sick leave requirements do not apply when no work is available.  In that case, please refer to the EDD website* with regard to various considerations for unemployment insurance benefits that may be applicable for employees whose businesses have been forced to reduce hours substantially, make furloughs, or make layoffs due to Coronavirus and the shelter in place orders.

The law prohibits employers from requiring an employee to find a replacement when using qualifying paid sick leave.  On the other hand, the paid sick time stops beginning with the employee’s next scheduled shift immediately following the conclusion of the need for paid sick time.  In other words, an employee must return to work as soon as the need for leave ends, even if the employee has not used all of the paid sick time available under the FFCRA.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or childcare unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business.  To elect this small business exemption, you should document why your business with fewer than 50 employees needs the exemption.  However, the DOL has not yet released the criteria for the exemption, which will apparently be addressed in more detail in forthcoming regulations.  The DOL does not need you to send any materials to them when seeking a small business exemption for paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave.

A link to the poster that all employers should share with their employees—and post in the location where similar posters are displayed once it is safe to do so—can be found here:

https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/posters/FFCRA_Poster_WH1422_Non-Federal.pdf

Employers covered by the FFCRA qualify for dollar-for-dollar reimbursement through tax credits for all qualifying wages paid under the FFCRA, for amounts paid to an employee who takes eligible leave, up to the maximums listed above.  Applicable tax credits also extend to amounts paid or incurred to maintain health insurance coverage.  For more information on this part, please see the Department of the Treasury’s website, for example here:

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm952

For more information about the FFCRA, you can visit the Department of Labor’s information pages here:

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions

Please note also that permitted uses of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) were separately addressed under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act in response to COVID-19, which may be the topic of a separate article.

* Information from the EDD about unemployment benefits, options available for both employers and employees, and Coronavirus in California in general, please see the EDD’s website here:

https://www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm

https://www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/faqs.htm