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FACT SHEET – The Family First Coronavirus Response Act

March 20, 2020 Advisory

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act into law.  This action expands existing laws and creates new obligations for employers in an effort to assist workers affected by the spread of the COVID 19 virus.  While there are provisions of this law that impacts employees – such as the providing of COVID 19 screening at no cost to individuals and the expansion of food services to needy families, this guidance will concentrate on the provisions that will have a direct impact on employers and employees in the workplace.

1) Who is covered by the new provisions of the FFCRA? The law applies to employers with 500 or fewer employees. 

2) What are the major aspects of the law that employers should be aware of?

There are two main requirements that are established by the FFCRA. First, the FFCRA provides for the establishment of an Emergency Sick Leave benefit. This provision requires employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for all full-time employees regardless of how long the employee has been an employee of the company. Part-time employees are also included and must be provided paid sick leave on a pro-rated basis.

Sick leave is paid at 100% of the employee’s regular earning if the absence is due to the employee’s own illness or diagnosis, and two thirds payment if the leave is for the care of a family member who has been diagnosed with COVID 19 or is in quarantine.

The second provision pertains to the expansion of the FMLA. The FFCRA expands the FMLA by enacting paid leave during the employee’s 12 weeks of eligible leave and reducing the employment length that is required for eligibility from one year to 30 days.

3) What specifically do I need to know about the new Emergency Sick Leave law? There are certain eligible events that will trigger the payment of sick leave.  These include: 

  • The employee’s self-isolation or is experiencing symptoms related to COVID 19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis. (100% payment)
  • The employee, or a family member whom the employee cares for is quarantined or diagnosed with COVID 19. (2/3 payment)
  • An employee’s child’s school or day care is closed. (2/3 payment)
  • Employees who can continue to work remotely during a self-quarantine are not eligible for paid sick leave.

Other aspects of the Emergency Sick Leave law that are important to note include:

  • There is no service requirement for employees to be eligible for paid sick leave.
  • The paid sick leave provided under the Emergency Sick Leave provision of the FFCRA is in addition to any paid sick leave already provided by the employer.
  • Employers cannot require that employees use existing paid sick leave benefits before applying for payment under the Emergency Sick Leave provision.
  • An employer cannot discharge or discipline an employee because of their use of paid sick leave under the FFCRA.
  • Employers are required to post a notice in the workplace. This poster will be developed and provided by the Secretary of Labor. 

4) What changes have been made to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Temporary revisions to the FMLA have been established as part of the FFCRA. These changes include:

  • Employment eligibility for FMLA has been reduced from one year and 1250 hours to just 30 days of employment.
  • Leave under the original FMLA was generally unpaid. Under the revised version, the first 14 days of FMLA leave continues to be is unpaid, however employees must be allowed to use existing vacation, personal or sick leave to cover this time.  The remaining 10 weeks of leave must be paid at two-thirds of their regular earnings.
  • All other provisions of the original FMLA remain in effect. 

5) Are employers required to pay for these additional benefits?

Yes, the FFCRA requires employers with 500 or fewer employees to pay for these leave benefits.  Small employers with no more than 50 employees may seek a hardship waiver from the Department of Labor.  Employers seeking this waiver must show that the payment of these benefits would jeopardize the viability of the business in order to be successful.  This exercise is likely to take some time and it is unclear at this time whether payments must continue until the waiver is approved. 

6) Is the US government providing any assistance to employers who must pay for these added benefits?

Employers who are affected by the payment of these new benefits, are allowed to claim a quarterly tax credit against payroll taxes up to an amount that does not exceed the business’s total payroll taxes paid in that quarter.  Self-employed workers, including independent contractors and gig economy workers can claim a credit against their self-employed taxes. 

7) Are there specific guidance on how these credits can be applied for? 

The maximum credit for employees who take leave to care for their own quarantine or COVID 19 diagnosis  has been established at $511 per day ( or $5,100 total), and the maximum credit for employees who take leave to care for others in their family has be set at $200 per day ($2,000 total) 

8) Does the new Emergency Sick Leave or the expanded FMLA, define which family members are included when the employee takes time off to care for others?

The law does not specifically establish a listing of qualified family members; however, it is safe to assume that the same guidelines that apply to the original FMLA will apply to the new Emergency Sick Leave and expanded FMLA benefits.

As a reminder, these family members include, the employee’s spouse, brothers and sisters and their spouses, children and their spouses, grandparents, grandchildren and their spouses, the employee’s spouse’s parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses, and domestic partners, their parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses and children. 

9) How will the FFCRA affect Unemployment Insurance (UI)?

As part of the law, the federal government will transfer money to the individual state UI accounts to help meet the expected increase in demand.  States may modify certain provisions of their individual UI laws, including work search and first week unpaid rules.  States may also elect to not increase the premiums for employers when their employees claim benefits.  It is not clear at this time what steps individual states may take in the wake of this new funding.

10) How long will these provisions be in place?

The provisions of the FFCRA are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020. 

The passage of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act is a very recent development and it is important to continue to monitor new developments as they become available.  Due to the rapidly changing regulations and program specifics, some items in this post may have changed since the publication date.  If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at HumanCapital@fahrenheitadvisors.com.

About the Author
Nathan Duet is an expert in building sustainable human resources functions within rapidly growing organizations and making strategic adjustments to policies and practices to accommodate an organization’s strategy and development. With nearly 40 years of experience, Nathan collaborates with clients to build a balanced approach to human resources management that facilitates the growth of team members while achie

ving, and exceeding, organizational objectives. He is skilled in all areas of human resources management including employee relations, compensation, benefits, communications, performance management, and compliance with state and federal labor laws. nduet@fahrenheitadvisors.com 

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