The Senate on March 18 passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, an economic stimulus plan aimed at addressing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on Americans and introducing paid sick leave and an expanded family and medical leave act to the nation’s employers.
An earlier version of this Act (H.R. 6201) was previously passed by the House in the early hours of March 14 before being significantly altered late March 16.
The bill now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature, which is expected later March 18 or March 19 as he has already publicly supported the bill. Once he signs the bill, it will become effective in 15 days.
This act includes many provisions which apply to employers, such as paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19 and those serving as caregivers for individuals with COVID-19.
While the act also contains several provisions to increase funding for familiar benefit programs, like WIC and SNAP, this legal alert summarizes the key benefit provisions of the act which affect employers.
There are two provisions providing paid leave to employees forced to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak: an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a new federal paid sick leave law.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
Expanded Coverage and Eligibility---The act significantly amends and expands FMLA on a temporary basis.
The current employee threshold for FMLA coverage would change from only covering employers with 50 or more employees to instead covering those employers with fewer than 500 employees. It also lowers the eligibility requirement such that any employee who has worked for the employer for at least 30 days prior to the designated leave may be eligible to receive paid family and medical leave.
As a result, thousands of employers not previously subject to the FMLA may be required to provide job-protected leave to employees for a COVID-19 coronavirus-designated reason.
However, the act now includes language allowing the Secretary of Labor to exclude healthcare providers and emergency responders from the definition of employees who are allowed to take such leave, and to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees if the required leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.
Reasons for Emergency Leave---Any individual employed by the employer for at least 30 days (before the first day of leave) may take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to allow an employee, who is unable to work or telework, to care for the employee’s child (under 18 years of age) if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency.
This is now the only qualifying need for Emergency FMLA and a significant change from the prior version of the bill passed by the House over the weekend, which contained several other COVID-19-related reasons to provide Emergency FMLA.