The COVID-19 health crisis is forcing employers and business owners to make quick decisions, especially when it comes to handling their workforce. Should staff members continue reporting to the office or work from home? What do you do if an employee, or an employee’s family member, catches the virus? Are you required to provide paid sick leave? Regulations and federal guidelines are changing, sometimes by the hour, and it’s critical for employers to be informed of the options for paid leave during COVID-19.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was the first national legislation to offer relief from the COVID-19 crisis. It offers wage protection for workers who are unable to work as a result of the virus—whether they’re ill, caring for a suffering family member, or lack childcare due to school closures. There are three main types of paid leave outlined in the FFCRA: Emergency Paid Sick Leave, Public Health Emergency Leave, and expansions of the existing Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
1. Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Paid sick leave can be used on its own or as a supplement to other employer-paid time off. Employees who are eligible for 100% of their normal rate of pay (capped at $511 per day/$5,110 total) for up to 80 work hours must meet at least one of these criteria:
- The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19
- He or she has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine
- He or she is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking medical help
Other employees who qualify for Emergency Paid Sick Leave are unable to work or telework for one of these three reasons:
- The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to quarantine or has been told by a medical professional to self-isolate
- The employee is the parent of a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19 and other childcare is unavailable
- The employee is experiencing a similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. These employees are eligible to receive 66.67% of their regular rate of pay (capped at $200 per day/$2,000 total) for up to 80 hours.
Tax credits are being offered to businesses to help cover the costs of paid leave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Public Health Emergency Leave
Employees who are eligible for public health emergency leave are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave beginning on or after April 1, 2020. The first 10 days of leave may be unpaid, or the employee can use FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave (item 1 above), accrued PTO, vacation, or sick time during those 10 days. The employee cannot be required to use PTO, vacation, or paid sick leave. After the first 10-days, employers must continue to pay the employee at no less than two-thirds of his or her normal pay rate, not exceeding $200 per day or $10,000 total.
Employees who qualify for this leave are unable to work or telework because they must care for their children (under the age of 18) whose school or daycare closed as a result of a public health emergency.
3. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Expansion
To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must have been diagnosed with the coronavirus or be caring for a family member who is ill. The infected person must have been hospitalized for COVID-19, be receiving prescription treatment, or have visited a doctor two or more times because of COVID-19.
The employee may receive two weeks of full pay, followed by three months of pay at no less than two-thirds of regular pay. Tax credits covering the employee’s leave cannot exceed $200 per day (capped at $10,000 per employee). Self-employed individuals can also take paid leave in the form of credits toward their annual business taxes.
Just as with the traditional FMLA policies we’re accustomed to, the employee must be returned to a comparable position once he or she is ready to return to work. However, employers of fewer than 25 people whose businesses would be jeopardized by holding the role open are exempt. The employer may not discriminate against any employee who uses leave. Employees may take a total of 12 work weeks of FMLA per 12-month period, meaning that those who have used FMLA in the past year may not be eligible now.
Other requirements for employers related to COVID-19
The Department of Labor requires businesses to post this model notice in a conspicuous place, which outlines the employees’ rights to paid leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. If an employee is coughing, has a fever, or is having difficulty breathing, he or she should be sent home to self-isolate immediately. Legally, employers have the right to ask their employees if they tested positive for coronavirus and inquire about any symptoms they may be experiencing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allows you to obtain a temperature reading from a potentially sick employee. Employers are encouraged to conduct these sensitive inquiries privately and keep any results confidential, like any other medical test.
If an employee was recently exposed to a known case of the virus, keep that individual out of the office for at least 14 days. If an employee tests positive for coronavirus, it is your responsibility to alert fellow employees and potentially affected clients of possible exposure. However, you should not identify the diagnosed person. Isolate his or her work area for at least 24 hours, cleaning it thoroughly with soap and water followed by bleach or alcohol solution.