Now that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) became effective April 2, employers with less than 500 employees have new mandatory paid sick leave requirements in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As the rapidly-spreading coronavirus has caused concerns that workers who can’t afford to stay home will only accelerate the spread of the virus, the feds have passed FFCRA.
While firms must pay this emergency coverage, they’re eligible for tax credits, which they can claim on their 2020 tax returns or can request an advance by submitting IRS Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.
Small employer exemption
The DOL has issued guidance that exempts small employers (with fewer than 50 employees) from this emergency leave:
- for paid sick leave due to school closure or COVID-19-related child care availability, or
- if complying with these changes would jeopardize the firm
The FFCRA, which expires on Dec. 31, 2020, provides employees with both emergency paid sick leave and paid FMLA leave
Emergency sick leave
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act mandates firms provide up to 10 days of sick leave to those unable to work or telework due to the coronavirus.
Employees who qualify: All full-time employees receive 80 hours of paid sick leave, while part-timers must be given a number of hours equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a two-week period.
The sick leave is for a worker who:
- needs to be quarantined
- is advised by a health provider to self-quarantine
- is experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus and seeking testing
- is caring for a family member with the coronavirus, or
- has a child whose school is closed.
Usage: The leave is for immediate use, regardless of an employee’s length of employment. An employee doesn’t have to first exhaust other paid leave benefits nor be required to use their paid sick leave.
Rate of pay: Employees will be paid at their regular rate of pay, capped at $511 per day. However, if they’re taking the time to care for a family member, they’d receive two-thirds of their pay.
Emergency FMLA leave
The new FFCRA amends FMLA leave to provide up to 12 weeks of leave – 10 of which are paid, subject to a $200 per day cap – to employees.
Employees who qualify: Any employee with a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency” and who’s been employed for at least 30 days (a lower threshold than for traditional FMLA leave) qualifies if:
- they’re unable to work or telework because they have to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed, or
- their child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.
Rate of pay: Unlike the current FMLA law, a worker can opt to use unpaid time, accrued vacation or paid sick leave for the first 10 days of the emergency leave. For subsequent days, employees will receive a sum equal to at least two-thirds of their normal pay, with a cap at $200 per day.
If a worker has a fluctuating workweek, the firm must average the number of hours they worked for the six-month period prior to the leave.
Job protection: Typically, an employee on FMLA leave must be restored to their prior position upon return to work. However, this requirement doesn’t apply to firms with fewer than 25 workers if their job no longer exists and the employer makes reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position.