The Covid-19 Pandemic has caused Congress to act to protect employees affected by the virus and the social distancing measures being implemented that have quickly impacted the economy. To date, Congress has enacted the first federal paid sick leave and family and medical leave requirement and the largest expansion to unemployment benefits in our nation's history.
Paid Sick Leave and Paid Family and Medical Leave
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was recently passed by Congress to provide paid sick leave and paid expanded family and medical leave. It goes into effect on April 1, 2020 and ends on December 31, 2020. It covers most public and private employers with fewer than 500 employees; however, employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from eligibility for the leave provided under the Act.
There are three categories of paid leave under the FFCRA.
An employee can take two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at their full rate of pay if the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined due to government order or on the advice of a health care provider or the employee is experiencingCOVID-19 symptoms and seeking a diagnosis. This is available to all employees, regardless of how long they have worked there. Full paid sick leave is calculated by using either the employee’s regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher up to a daily maximum of $511 and a 2-week maximum of $5,110.
An employee can take two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds their rate of pay if the employee is unable to work because of the need to care for an individual subject to quarantine or to care for a child whose school/childcare is closed due to COVID-19. employee is experiencingCOVID-19 symptoms and seeking a diagnosis. This is available to all employees, regardless of how long they have worked there. The 2/3 sick leave is calculated by using either the employee’s regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage whichever is higher up to a daily maximum of $200, a 2-week maximum of $2000, and a12-week maximum = $12,000.
An employee can take an additional 10 weeks (up to 40 hours a week) of expanded paid family and medical leave leave at two-thirds their rate of pay if the employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19. This is available to employees who have worked at their employer for at least 30 days.
If an employee is able to telework, they will not be entitled to paid leave.
Small business are included in the law (although very large employers are not). However, small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) may qualify for an exemption. The exemption is only for leave based on school closings/childcare unavailability and only if the leave requirement would jeopardize the viability of the business. There is also a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement through tax credits available to all employers to assist with these payments.
The Department of Labor is expected to release regulations for the FFCRA in April. These regulations will provide further guidance on who is covered, when the FFCRA applies, and how small businesses are affected. For example, the DOL currently states that certain provisions may not apply to certain employers with fewer than 50 employees. The DOL has issued a Q&A document which addresses some issues.
Under the FFCRA it is unlawful for an employer to discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against an employee who takes paid sick leave under the FFCRA and files a complaint or institutes a proceeding under or related to the FFCRA. If you employer refuses to give you leave, you can complain to the DOL at 1-866-4US-WAGE or potentially file your own lawsuit.
Please call our office if you need assistance with the FFCRA.
Expanded Unemployment Benefits
Over 3 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 21, 2020, the largest initial jobless claims week in history. And it is expected to continue to grow dramatically. As a result, Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). As part of this legislation, Congress expanded unemployment benefits to include:
An additional $600/week on top of state benefits
An additional 13 weeks of coverage (up to 39 weeks total)
Coverage for people typically left out of unemployment (independent contractors, freelancers, gig workers, self-employed, and part-time workers)
Coverage for those who are unemployed because they are sick, caring for the sick, quarantined, or home with children because of COVID-19.
It applies to individuals who are already on unemployment for unrelated reasons, and the additional 13 weeks and $600 also may apply to those who have recently exhausted their benefits. States are incentivized to waive the 1-week waiting period normally imposed.
People who can telework or are receiving paid leave are expressly excluded.
You can apply for unemployment benefits in Florida here.