BREAKING NEWS: Congress passes mandatory sick leave and paid FMLA leave re coronavirus

Late March 18, 2020, Congress passed then the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, HR 6201.

  • The Act will take effect “not later than 15 days” after its enactment March 18, 2020, in other words, absent further development, April 2, 2020. (UPDATE: The effective date has been set for April 1, 2020.) It will sunset December 31, 2020.
  • The Act requires two types of leave, both include paid leave components.
    • Both types of leave apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees.
    • Employers of fewer than 50 employees will theoretically be able to seek exemption from the leave requirements if they would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.” The Act does not explain further. Rather it delegates to the DOL authority to develop regulations and processes to flesh out this possible exemption.
    • Special rules may also permit exemption of “certain health care providers and emergency responders,” again without explanation in the Act, as to be fleshed out by DOL regulations.
  • First, the Act provides for up to 80 hours of sick leave, in the event (1) the employee is subjected to a federal, state or local quarantine/isolation order re coronavirus, (2) the employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine re coronavirus, (3) the employee’s own coronavirus experience, or the employee is (4) caring for an individual subject to a quarantine/isolation order, (5) caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed, or (6) similar conditions as specified by government officials.
    • Sick leave for reasons 1-3 (generally the employee’s own condition) is capped at $511 per day.
    • Sick leave for reasons 4-6 is capped at $200 per day.
    • This sick leave will be available to all employees. Unlike the FMLA leave below, it does not appear to require a 30-day period of employment for eligibility.
  • Second, the Act amends the FMLA to provide for 12 weeks of leave when an employee is unable to work (or telework) because the employee must care for a child under the age of 18 whose daycare, elementary or high school has been closed due to coronavirus.
    • The first 10 days are unpaid. Employees can opt (but not be required) to substitute other paid leave.
    • The remaining 10 weeks of FMLA is paid at 2/3rds of the employee’s regular pay up to $200 per day and $10,000 total aggregate.
    • This coronavirus-specific FMLA leave will be available to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days.
    • The Act modifies the FMLA’s job-restoration requirements (in ways arguably not yet fully clear and hopefully to be determined by DOL regulation), recognizing that following the coronavirus crisis many positions will no longer exist.
    • Please note the coverage (fewer than 500 employees) and eligibility (30-days employment) requirements. This will mean that many (many) more employers and employees will be covered by coronavirus-FMLA than would otherwise be covered by the FMLA in general.
  • The Act (again without sufficient detail to be fully clear) provides for 100% tax credits to permit employers to offset the costs of providing such leave (by offsets against Social Security taxes).
  • The DOL is required to publish a poster within 7 days, summarizing the Act.

UPDATE: The DOL has begun rulemaking to develop regulations, which it hopes to deliver no later than the Act’s effective date, if not sooner. The DOL will bypass the normal process of publishing proposed rules first by invoking governmental-agency emergency authority to publish immediately effective final rules and invite comment on the same thereafter for possible later revisions.


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