With the onslaught of the COVID-19 coronavirus, federal, state and local authorities have been taking numerous steps to battle the pandemic and provide protections to families and businesses that may be affected. These actions are continuously evolving, so it is important for you to stay up to date with changes to protect yourself and your business.
Below is a summary of just one of the recent and important developments that may affect you or your business. Should you have any questions, please contact Tzangas Plakas Mannos Ltd. at 330.453.5466.
A. Federal Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act (Job-Protected Leave)
President Trump just signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law. This includes an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act. The new Act, the Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act, has important implications during this time for businesses. The Act is effective on April 2, 2020 and will expire on December 31, 2020.
- What types of businesses are covered for an Emergency FMLA Leave?
Any employer that has less than 500 employees is covered. Unlike the existing FMLA, this new law includes small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. However, provisions will allow for employers of 50 or fewer employees to apply for exemptions in the event that compliance with the new law would jeopardize the viability of that business.
- Who is eligible for job-protected leave?
Employees that have been employed by the employer for at least 30 days are covered by the Act. Again, this differs from the prior version of the FMLA, which required an employee to have a longer tenure to be eligible.
- What qualifying events allow an eligible employee to request an emergency job-protected leave?
An eligible employee may request up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave if the employee must care for a child (under the age of 18) because the child’s school or care facility is closed due to a public health emergency. This final version of the Act is much more limited than the original House Bill provisions that covered other events.
- Is some or all of the emergency leave paid?
The first ten days of the Emergency FMLA leave period may be unpaid. During this ten-day period, the employee may elect to substitute accrued paid time off or sick leave available from the employer to provide for payment. Following that ten-day period, the employer must pay full-time employees at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate for the number of hours the employee would otherwise have been scheduled. The Act limits this pay entitlement to $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate.
- Is the employee’s job protected?
For employers of 25 or more employees, the employer has the same obligations as a traditional FMLA employer to restore the employee to the same position the employee had when the leave began or one that is equivalent to that position.For employers of less than 25 employees, the employer may be excluded from coverage of this requirement if the employee’s position no longer exists due to economic downturn or other circumstances caused by the public health emergency. The employer still must make reasonable attempts to return the employee to work for up to a year following the leave.
B. Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
The new law also includes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. It is important to note that these provisions are separate from and in addition to the Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act.
- What sizes of businesses are covered?
The new law covers employers that have less than 500 employees.
- Which employees are eligible?
All full-time employees, regardless of their duration of employment prior to the leave, are eligible.
- What qualifying events allow an employee to request paid sick leave?
An employee is eligible for paid sick leave for any of the following reasons:a. The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine/isolation order related to COVID-19;
b. The employee is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
c. The employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis
d. The employee is caring for an individual subject to quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19; or
e. The employee is caring for a child if the child’s school or care facility is closed or unavailable due to public health emergency.
- How much paid sick leave is available?
Full-time employees who are eligible for emergency paid sick leave are entitled to receive up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate or two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate if the employee’s reason for leave is to care for a child or family member. The new law caps the paid sick leave so that wages are limited to $511 per day up to $5,110 total per employee for their own use, or $200 per day up to $2,000 total per employee to care for others.
- What if the employer already offers paid sick leave?
The new law prohibits employers from changing their leave policies to provide for less leave than previously afforded to employees. Employees are entitled to take any accrued paid time off or sick leave they have available either before or after this additional emergency paid sick leave that is afforded under the new law.
- Does an employee who has the coronavirus, or might be infected, have a right to confidentiality?
While the new law does not directly address this matter, employers should take steps to avoid disclosing the health or medical information of their employees. This may pose a challenge in attempting to limit the spread of the virus among a specific employee’s coworkers if it becomes known to the employer that an employee has contracted the virus or was in contact with someone that contracted the virus. Employees should be encouraged to report to their employers that they contracted the virus or were in contact with someone that contracted the virus. The employer can then assess what steps are available to protect the employee’s private health information while also protecting the health and safety of other employees that may work in close contact with that person.
C. Do Employers have tax relief for both of these new employee benefits?
The new law does include a provision allowing employers to receive a tax credit equal to 100% of all qualified paid sick leave wages that are paid by the employer pursuant to both the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Leave Act. The tax credit is allowed against the employer’s portion of Social Security taxes.