Government Passes Families First Coronavirus Response Act
In response to the coronavirus, the federal government has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the "Act") in an attempt to provide assistance to employees and businesses. The Act itself provides for free coronavirus testing, strengthens paid emergency leave, and allows for increased Medicaid funding.
Although more limited than the version initially proposed, the Act provides that employees who work for companies with fewer than 500 employees and government employers, who have held that job for 30 days or more, are to be given 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave if the employees are unable to work, or work remotely, in order to care for the employee's child if the child's school or place of care is closed/unavailable because of the coronavirus. Under the Act, the first 10 days of absence may be paid under FMLA, however, employees may choose to utilize any paid time off that they have not already taken advantage of instead. If an employee needs more time than the initial ten days and still meets FMLA requirements for paid leave, the employee is to be paid at least 2/3 of the employee's regular pay rate for the typical number of hours worked. This amount of paid leave cannot exceed $200 per day or $10,000 total.
Employers are to be given a payroll tax credit for the qualified sick leave wages the employer pays, although this credit is subject the maximum amount of paid leave deescribed above. Employers are required to restore employees to the same or similar positions except if: (1) the employer has less than 25 employees; (2) the employee's former position does not currently exist becasue of economic/operating conditions caused by the coronavirus; (3) the employer tries to restore the employee to a similar position to that which the employee previosuly held (with similar pay, benefits, etc.); and (4) the employer is unable to successfully restore the employee to a similar position and the employer contacts the employee should any such position become available. All of these conditions must be met. Specified health care providers, emergency responders and small businesses are not required to provide this enlarged leave if it jeopardizes the viability of the business. In order to qualify for this, the small business must employee fewer than 50 employees.
In addition, companies with less than 500 employees and government employers must give two weeks of paid sick leave to employees, which can be used for the following specified reasons: (1) the employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation order relating to the coronavirus; (2) the employee has been told by a healthcare professional to self-quarantine for reasons relating to the coronavirus; (3) the employee is suffering from symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus and is awaiting testing; (4) the employee is caring for someone who is subject to a quarantine or who has been told by a health care professional to self-quarantine; (5) the employee is caring for their child if the child's school or place of care is closed/unavailable because of the coronavirus; or (6) the employee has a substantially similar condition as described by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
If employees go on paid sick leave for reasons 1-3, then they must be paid their regular pay. In the alternative, employees who take leave for reasons 4-6 must be paid at 2/3 of their regular pay. The amount of paid sick leave cannot exceed $511 per day or $5,111 total for reasons 1-3, and $200 per day and $2,000 total for reasons 4-6. An employer cannot force employees to expend other paid leave before using the paid sick leave under the Act. Existing sick leave policies must be altered to include the sick leave provisions included in the Act in addition to those that already exist. As before, employers will be given a payroll tax credit for qualified sick leave wages paid out, but this amount is controlled by the caps discussed for paid sick leave. Likewise, certain health care providers and small businesses with less than 50 employees are excluded if it would jeopardize the viability of the business.
For more information regarding the Act, please visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6201/text.