For the first time in U.S. history, the federal government has granted employees of certain private employers and government employees paid sick leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) gives employees up to two weeks of paid sick leave and extends the leave provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The provisions of the new laws are complex, but here’s what you need to know.
What the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Act Requires
Under the FFCRA, government employers and private employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide full-time employees affected by COVID-19 up to 80 hours of paid sick leave in a two-week period. Employees may take leave between April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
To qualify for sick leave under the FFCRA, employees must be unable to work (remotely or in the workplace) for one of the following reasons:
- they have coronavirus symptoms that require a medical diagnosis
- they are under a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order
- their healthcare provider advised them to self-quarantine
- they must care for an immediate family member, a roommate, or another person the employee would be expected to care for who has coronavirus symptoms that require a medical diagnosis, who is under a quarantine or isolation order, or who has been advised to self-quarantine by a healthcare provider
- OR they must care for a child whose school or childcare has closed because of COVID-19.
The FFCRA also expanded the leave available under the FMLA. The law now provides up to 12 weeks of expanded, partially paid emergency-leave for employees who are unable to work because their child’s school is closed or because their childcare provider is unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two weeks of the leave are unpaid, but employers must pay at least two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay for the remainder of the leave. The law also relaxes the FMLA’s eligibility requirements for the leave: it is available to employees who have worked at least 30 days for the company and to employees rehired after a layoff that occurred on or after March 1, 2020, so long as they worked for the company for at least 30 of the 60 days prior to the layoff. Any FMLA leave taken in the 12-month period prior to the COVID-19 FMLA leave limits the duration of the leave.
How the FFCRA Affects Other Types of Leave
The FFCRA does not pre-empt any state or local leave requirements. The law also does not change any rights that employees have under an employer’s leave policy or collective bargaining agreement.
That means emergency paid sick leave offered under the law must be given in addition to any paid or unpaid leave that employees are entitled to under the law, employer policy, or other agreement. Employers cannot require employees to use other paid or unpaid leave before or concurrently with FFCRA emergency paid sick leave.
However, employees can agree with their employers to use FFCRA paid sick leave during their first two weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. And, during their last 10 weeks of FMLA leave, employers can require employees to use other employer-provided paid leave—including paid time off and accrued vacation—concurrently.
Enforcement of the FFCRA
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) maintained a temporary nonenforcement period through April 17, 2020; now, the government agency has started bringing enforcement actions against employers. Companies that violate the paid leave portion of the FFCRA may have to pay a penalty of up to $1,100 for each violation as well as unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Those that violate the FMLA expansion portion of the law may be liable for back pay, front pay, liquidated and special damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
The DOL also requires covered employers to display a poster about employees’ rights to emergency paid leave under the FFCRA by April 1, 2020; for employees working remotely, employers must send the notice by mail or email or post the notice on an employee intranet.
If you need a copy of the FFCRA poster, contact us immediately. We are also including this poster as part of our convenient, cost-effective .