Expanded Rights for Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The U.S. Department of Labor posted a temporary rule on April 1, 2020 that provides most employees impacted by the coronavirus with some much-needed benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  These benefits include public emergency health leave under Title I of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and emergency paid sick leave to help out families dealing the effects of COVID-19.

Under FFCRA, employees who work for employers with less than 500 employees will be qualified for paid sick leave if an employee is unable to work or telecommute for one of the following reasons:

  • The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  • The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  • The employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • The employee is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine described in (2);
  • The employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care (such as a daycare) is closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19; and
  • The employee is experiencing any substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

The FFCRA provides that employees are be entitled to up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay or minimum wage.  Paid sick leave benefits under the FFCRA cannot exceed $511 per day or $5,110 total.  If employers already have sick leave in place, they must provide the FFCRA sick leave in addition to the existing leave.

In addition to paid sick leave, an employee may also get an additional ten weeks of leave to care for an individual who has been quarantined, or to look after a child whose school or daycare is closed or unavailable due to reasons related to COVID-19.  Employees would receive two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay while on this extended leave or up to $200 per day or $10,000 total.

Employers with less than 500 employees are generally covered by FFCRA.  Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from providing its employees with leave if a school or daycare is closed if the leave would jeopardize the viability of the business.  These small businesses would have to apply for an exemption with the Department of Labor.

Employees of the federal government are entitled to FMLA leave, and are thus not covered by FFCRA.  However, such employees are covered by the paid sick leave provision.

Part-time employees are eligible for a paid two week leave for the number of hours they worked on average in a two week period.

Employers are required to post a notice about employees’ rights under the FFCRA.

The temporary rule is in effect from April 2, 2020 until December 31, 2020.  Paid sick leave provided under FFCRA does not carry over from one year to the next.  Employees are also not entitled to reimbursement for unused leave upon separation from employment.

If you feel that you have issues related to taking leave in the workplace, please feel free to call Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation at (510)-444-4400 or inquire@hunterpylelaw.com.  The attorneys and staff at Hunter Pyle Law are continuing to work remotely and take employee-related inquires by phone and email.