On March 18, Congress passed and President Trump signed a bill to help Americans as they deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple provisions in this law provide protections for workers. The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler believe that people should understand this bill and the changes it could make.
Leave from work because of the coronavirus
This bill contains three provisions that cover workers who have to stay home from their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak. It temporarily expands the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, expands the benefits available through unemployment insurance, and institutes paid sick leave nationally.
Emergency expansion of the FMLA
The bill expands the coverage of the FMLA and the eligibility for it temporarily. Currently, the FMLA covers employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. This act would expand the coverage to include employers with fewer than 50 workers. The expansion would cover all employers with less than 500 employees. More employees would meet the eligibility requirements under this bill. Currently, employees must have worked a minimum of 12 months for their employers before they are eligible for FMLA leave. This bill would reduce the eligibility requirement to include workers who have worked for their employers for 30 or more days.
This bill also would expand the reasons for taking emergency leave. Eligible employees will be allowed to take as much as 12 weeks of leave to care for their children if the children’s school or childcare facility has closed because of a quarantine, isolation order, or social distancing measures resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. The first two weeks of the emergency leave can be unpaid. However, the employee can use any accrued sick leave or paid leave to cover that period. After 14 days have passed, the employers will be required to pay their full-time workers who have taken the leave at the rate of two-thirds of their regular hourly rate for the normal work hours missed. Part-time workers will be paid two-thirds of their regular rate for the average number of hours per week that they worked in the previous six months.
The bill also expands who is defined as a parent under the FMLA to include the employee’s parent-in-law, the employee’s domestic partner’s parent, and those who served in loco parentis to the employee when he or she was a child. The bill also gives the Department of Labor the ability to exclude certain businesses with less than 50 employees by issuing regulations and to exclude emergency responders and healthcare providers from the eligible employees. The bill will become effective within 15 days of enactment, i.e., April 2, 2020, and remain in place until Dec. 31, 2020.
Paid sick leave provision
Under this provision, employers that have 499 or fewer employees will be required to give their employees up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at their regular hourly rates. The paid sick leave must be paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay up to a maximum amount.
Employees will be allowed to take paid sick leave because of a quarantine recommendation or requirement after exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus or being exposed to someone with the disease. They will also be allowed to take paid sick leave to self-isolate after being diagnosed with COVID-19 or to seek medical care because of exhibiting symptoms. Employees will also be able to take paid sick leave to care for a self-isolating family member because of a diagnosis or who has been exposed to the disease. Finally, paid sick leave will be available to employees who need to take time off from work to care for children whose schools have been closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Workers will not be allowed to carry over unused paid sick leave to 2021. It will be added on top of any paid sick leave that the employers currently provide. Employers that do offer paid sick leave will not be allowed to change their policies to avoid the additional mandated leave.
Expansion of unemployment compensation
Under this provision, states will receive $1 billion in emergency grants in 2020 for unemployment insurance payments and processing. $500 million of the money will be offered to immediately fund states for administrative costs. However, they will need to meet a few requirements. The states will need to require that employers give notice to their employees about unemployment insurance compensation when they are separated from their jobs. They must also make sure that the applications for unemployment insurance compensation are accessible in a minimum of two ways. Finally, the states will be required to notify people when they have received their applications and tell them how to make their applications successful if they cannot be processed.
The remaining 50% would be reserved to be used for emergency grants if states experience an uptick of claims of 10% or more. The states that qualify for the additional grant would be given money of they commit to strengthen access to unemployment compensation and take steps to make it easier for workers to qualify. Like the other provisions, this law would remain effective until the end of the year.
Tax credits for employers
Employers who are required to provide paid sick or paid family and medical leave will receive refundable tax credits that can be used against the taxes imposed on employers for their portions of Social Security taxes. Employers will be reimbursed if the costs for providing paid sick or family leave exceed the amount of taxes that they owe.
Requiring health plans to pay for testing
Finally, there is a provision in the bill that requires private health and medical plans to pay for COVID-19 tests. The coverage must fully pay for the tests for the employee and the family members who are covered under his or her plan.
Contact the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler
If you have a question about your rights, benefits which might be available to you or concerns about something that is happening in your workplace, contact Swartz Swidler to learn more about this bill and the rights that you might have.