Tag Archives: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Can Employers Use Existing Paid Leave Benefits to Offset Emergency Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA?

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb and Brian Wacker, March 27, 2020

On March 18, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). A component of the FFCRA is the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA), which requires covered employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to the COVID-19 corona virus starting April 1. 

Generally, EPSLA requires covered employers to provide all employees with two weeks (up to 80-hours) of paid sick leave at the regular rate of pay when the employee is unable to work because he/she is quarantined pursuant with governmental or doctor’s orders and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis. Additionally, if the employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need to care for someone else under quarantine, or a child whose school is closed for COVID-19 related reasons, then the employer is required to provide two weeks of paid sick leave at the rate of two-third (2/3) the employee’s regular rate of pay.

The question, however, for many employers is whether any employer provided, or local/state government mandated, paid sick leave policy or other paid time off (PTO) benefits can be used to meet the EPSLA mandate and if not, whether an employer can require employees to first use previously earned/accrued sick leave prior to availing themselves of this new ESPLA benefit. 

The answer to both questions is NO. The EPSLA states that an employer “may not require an employee to use other paid leave provided by the employer to the employee before the employee uses the paid sick time.” The EPSLA does not expressly state paid sick leave in this limitation, but newly published guidance from the DOL clarifies that paid sick leave and expanded family medical leave under the FFCRA is in addition to employees’ preexisting leave entitlements. Accordingly, earned/accrued sick leave or other paid leave existing prior to April 1, 2020 cannot be used to offset or substitute for the mandates under the FFCRA.

Of course, existing employer provided, or local/state government mandated, paid sick leave or other PTO benefits can be used to cover absences that occur prior to April 1st or to extend the period of paid leave beyond FFCRA mandates. Employers may also choose to allow (but cannot require) employees receiving 2/3 pay under FFCRA’s paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave provisions to use existing paid leave to supplement the 2/3 pay up to the amount of the employee’s normal earnings.

So You Want Some of the Fed Money? The Potential Price for Mid-Sized Businesses: A Labor Union

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, March 27, 2020

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the CARES Act, and it is up for vote TODAY before the U.S. House of Representatives, with a promise of swift passage. You need to pay attention. This is about more than emergency relief.

Look at page 524 of the bill, which would apply to any mid-sized business that takes a loan under this Act:

“Any eligible borrower applying for a direct loan under this program shall make a good-faith certification that— ….

(X) that the recipient will remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.”

This means that if you employ between 500 and 10,000 employees and you take a loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), you would be required to remain neutral when a union tries to organize your employees.  In other words, by taking this loan, you would agree to not communicate with your employees – at all – about your preference to stay non-union, any of the drawbacks of union representation, or even respond to any stretched truth that the union throws at your employees to sway them to support the union. Although there are still questions about what “remain neutral” means under the CARES Act and whether that could include card checks – at the very least – we know it would mean that employees who are being organized by a union will only hear one side of the story.

The expectation is that this language will lead to union pressure on employers to enter into neutrality agreements to memorialize certain terms, which often include “card check” provisions. When there is a card check, the union merely has to obtain signatures from a majority of employees in a company to become the exclusive bargaining representative for all workers. This is a significant concession to the labor unions because it takes away the employees’ existing right to vote for or against the union, by secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Rather, a card check amounts to open voting because a union representative simply gets to ask the employee for his/her signature.  Opponents of the card check process argue that this can lead to unlawful interference with the employee’s right to freely choose for or against union representation.

The inclusion of this neutrality language comes on the heels of a November 2019 decision from the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in Embassy Suites by Hilton, Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square, 19-CA-227623, in which he shifted on the legality of neutrality agreements by finding that a neutrality agreement amounted to unlawful employer assistance to the union and unlawful acceptance of aid by the union. This was a significant departure from the current law which generally views these neutrality agreements as legal.  This was viewed by management-side attorneys as a good basis to resist pressure from unions to enter into such agreements. This CARES Act provision appears to be a direct shot at that. 

The bottom line is BEWARE. Read the fine print or this loan could get you.

As of publication, the CARES Act language is still subject to change. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress through the House and will update as necessary.

Regular Rate of Pay under the FFCRA – It’s Not Necessarily the Base Wage

By Sara Zorich and Michael Wong, March 27, 2020

wage and hour

For purposes of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the regular rate of pay used to calculate an employee’s paid leave is not necessarily the employee’s base wage or salary.  According to the Department of Labor (DOL) FAQs regarding the FFCRA, the pay rate for an employee’s FFCRA leave is the average of the employee’s regular rate over a period of up to six months prior to the date the employee takes the leave.  If the employee has not worked for the employer for at least six months, the regular rate used to calculate any FFCRA paid leave is the average of the employee’s regular rate of pay for each week the employee has worked for the employer.

In order to determine an employee’s regular rate for a workweek under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the formula is: Total compensation in the workweek (except for statutory exclusions) ÷ Total hours worked in the workweek = Regular Rate for the workweek.

*Note, some states may have different regular rate calculations and items that are “excludable”.

For purposes of the FFCRA regular rate, employers have 2 options:

  • An employer can review the weekly regular rate for a period of up to six months prior to the date the employee takes the leave and average all of those regular rates; OR
  • An employer can compute the regular rate by adding all compensation that is part of the regular rate for the period of up to six months prior to the date the employee takes the leave and divides that sum by all hours actually worked in the same period.

Note, when determining the regular rate, if an employee is paid with commissions, tips, or piece rates, non-discretionary bonuses, those wages will be also need to be incorporated into the regular rate of pay calculation.

Under the FLSA, the following can be excluded from the regular rate IF there is no connection to hours worked and the employer has not agreed to include them as hours worked: gifts, business expenses, travel expenses, discretionary bonuses, vacation pay, holiday pay, illness pay, gym memberships, parking, wellness programs, profit sharing plans, employer contributions to retirement plans, stock options and premium overtime pay. (See Fact Sheet #56A for additional information). However, employers should review their policies and procedures to determine if they have any agreements to include otherwise excludable items in an employee’s regular rate of pay.

EXAMPLES –

  • On April 1, 2020, Joe is diagnosed with COVID-19 and quarantined.  He is entitled to Paid Sick Leave and makes $100,000 per year for working 40 hours a week. Under the FFCRA, he is entitled to two weeks at 100% of his regular rate, but not more than $511.00 per day.  Joe’s only compensation was his salary. When an employee is paid solely on a weekly salary, the employee’s regular rate is computed by dividing the salary by the number of hours which the salary is intended to compensate.  Joe’s regular rate is $50,000 ÷ 26 weeks (6 months) ÷ 40 hours per week = $48.08 per hour.  Under the FFCRA he would get $384.62 per day or $1,923.08 – which would be his normal salary because his salary is not above the $511 cap.
  • John advises his employer that he has to stay home to care for his children because their school is closed under state order.  He makes a base salary of $50,000 per year for working 40 hours a week and gets quarterly bonuses of $10,000 based on meeting performance goals. Under the FFCRA, he is entitled to two weeks at 2/3 his regular rate, but not more than $200.00 per day.  Since John receives a non-discretionary quarterly bonus of $10,000, that must be included in calculating his regular rate. During the past 6 months, John’s compensation would be $25,000 in salary wages and $20,000 in non-discretionary bonuses. John’s regular rate is $45,000 ÷ 26 weeks (6 months) ÷ 40 hours per week = $43.27 per hour/$346.15 per day.  Under the Paid Sick Leave he would get 2/3 of his regular rate so $346.15 x 2/3 = $230.77 per day – However, since it is above the cap of $200 per day, he would receive the max of $200 per day or $1,000 per week.

In summary, when an employee requests FFCRA leave, the employer will at that time need to determine the employee’s regular rate of pay for the paid FFCRA leave.

Senate Passes CARES Act – Bringing Relief to Many of Your Businesses!

We are diligently reviewing the CARES Act for the sections that will most affect small and mid-sized businesses across the country. As we dive ever deeper into the Act, we will post individual section summaries to our web page. We know you are craving information on changes to small business loans and tax policy which could bring some relief to your business so we started with those.

PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM – FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE THROUGH “FORGIVABLE” SBA LOANS

The CARES Act expands eligibility for small business loans made under section 7(a) of the Small Business Act by enacting a new Paycheck Protection Program (the “Program”). Program loans will be 100% guaranteed by the Federal government. The Program is in effect for the period of February 15, 2020 through June 30, 2020. Read more…

THE CARES ACT IMPACT ON CORPORATE AND BUSINESS TAXES

The CARES Act has several key provisions that are meant to give corporations and business (including sole proprietorships, partnerships and S-corporations) credits, payment delays, loss carrybacks, and interest deductions to help businesses to generate cash flow and liquidity to keep business open and maintain payroll. Read more…

Read all our CARES summaries for businesses

See all our COVID-19 Task Force Content

Counting to 500 Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Contributed by Peter Hansen, March 26, 2020

a 3d human character a question mark

As many of you know, employers with 500 or more employees are exempt from the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave provisions of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Now that the Department of Labor (DOL) released FAQs regarding the FFCRA, we know a bit more about how the DOL will count employees for the purpose of meeting the 500 employee threshold – including that it will apply the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) joint-employer analysis and the Family and Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) integrated employer test in making that determination. Now seems like as good a time as any for a brief refresher on the two tests.

FLSA Joint Employer Analysis

Under the FLSA, separate companies may become joint employers of an employee if both companies exercise control over the same employee. For example, say two companies benefit from an individual’s work but only one company designates the individual as their employee. To determine whether the two companies are the individual’s joint employer, the DOL would consider whether the second company exercises significant control over the employee’s work, including whether the second company:

  • hires or fires the employee;
  • supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;
  • determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • maintains the employee’s employment records.

Employers with 500 or more employees under the above FLSA joint employer analysis are not subject to either the FFCRA’s paid sick leave or paid FMLA leave provisions.

FMLA Integrated Employer Test

Under the FMLA, separate companies may be considered to be part of a single employer if they are an “integrated employer,” determined by considering the following factors:

  • The companies share common management;
  • The companies’ operations are interrelated;
  • The companies share control of labor relations; and
  • The companies share common ownership and/or financial control

Employers with 500 or more employees under the FMLA’s integrated employer test are not subject to the FFCRA’s paid FMLA leave provision – but, unless they have 500 or more employees under the FLSA’s joint employer analysis, may still be subject to the paid sick leave provision.

Each of the above tests are complicated, and the FFCRA remains subject to pending DOL guidance and regulations. As a result, any employers with questions or concerns regarding their joint employer or integrated employer status – or anything else relating to the FFCRA – should consult with counsel.

US DOL FFCRA POSTING NOTICE IS HERE!!!

Contributed by Julie Proscia, March 25, 2020

On March 25, 2020 the Department of Labor (DOL) released digital versions of the required notice of The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Under the FFCRA every covered employer (covered employers include most public sector employers and all private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees) must post a notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises. Obviously, where should you post the notice if you are remote in whole or in part? According to the DOL, since many employers have all or part of their workforce working remotely an employer may satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website. Employers are not required to post the notice in multiple languages nor are they required to give the notice to job applicants. The notice only has to be given to current employees, as such you do not have to send the notice to recently laid-off individuals. 

US DOL Releases FAQs re: the Families First COVID-19 Act (FFCRA) – April 1st Effective Date

Contributed by Julie Proscia, March 25, 2020

scales of justice and gavel on orange background

On March 24, 2020, the Department of Labor (DOL) released the much anticipated FAQs regarding the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The DOL’s FAQs offer clarification on some of the more pressing questions that have been on employers’ minds. Of particular note is information relating to the counting of employees, commencement of the leave and compilation of the leave. Of major significance is that the FFCRA will become effective on April 1, 2020 (not April 2nd) and it is not retroactive (and, any benefits provided by employers now through March 31, 2020 cannot be counted towards the FFCRA in any way).

Highlights of the FAQs include:

Effective Date

The effective date of the FFCRA, which includes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act is April 1, 2020, and applies to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

Counting Employees – How and when do you get to 500 – for purposes of paid sick leave and new FMLA mandates?

As a private sector employer you meet the 500 employee count threshold if at the time that the employee’s leave is to be taken, you employ under 500 full-time and part-time employees within the United States, which includes any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the United States. When counting employees, employers should include employees on leave; temporary employees who are jointly employed by you and another employer (regardless of whether the jointly-employed employees are maintained on only your or another employer’s payroll); and day laborers supplied by a temporary agency (regardless of whether you are the temporary agency or the client firm if there is a continuing employment relationship). Workers who are independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), rather than employees, are not considered employees for purposes of the 500-employee threshold.  Further, where a corporation has an ownership interest in another corporation, the two are separate employers (with separate employee counts) unless they are joint-employers as analyzed under the FLSA.  The FLSA’s joint-employer analysis will dictate coverage under the new emergency paid sick leave mandate.  Also, two or more entities are separate employers unless they meet the “integrated employer test” under the FMLA.  If two or more entities are deemed “integrated” under the FMLA, then the employees of the integrated entities should be counted as one employer (combining the employee counts) for purposes of the new FMLA mandate.

Overtime Hours are included when calculating pay

When calculating the average pay under the FFCRA, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act requires employers to pay an employee for hours the employee would have been normally scheduled to work even if that is more than 40 hours in a week, as such this would include regularly scheduled overtime.

Please note, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act only requires that paid sick leave be paid up to 80 hours over a two-week period. The example given is as follows: an employee who is scheduled to work 50 hours a week may take 50 hours of paid sick leave in the first week and 30 hours of paid sick leave in the second week. In any event, the total number of hours paid under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act is capped at 80. This determination will change if the employee’s schedule varies from week to week. These amounts are subject to the daily and weekly caps as set forth in the FFCRA.

Leave is Not Duplicative

When answering the question of whether or not an employee may take 80 hours of paid sick leave for their personal self-quarantine and then another amount of paid sick leave for another reason provided under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, the DOL clarified that this was not permissible.  Rather eligible employees may take up to two weeks—or ten days—(80 hours for a full-time employee, or for a part-time employee, the number of hours equal to the average number of hours that the employee works over a typical two-week period) of paid sick leave for any combination of qualifying reasons. However, the total number of hours for which an employee will receive paid sick leave is capped at 80 hours under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act.

Interplay of Expanded FMLA

The DOL further clarified the interplay that can occur when employees are home with their child(ren) because their school or child care provider is closed or unavailable and whether or not they get paid sick leave, expanded family and medical leave, or both. Individuals in this scenario may be eligible for both types of leave, but only for a total of twelve weeks of paid leave. Eligible employees may take both paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to care for their child(ren) whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides for an initial two (2) weeks of paid leave. This period covers the first ten workdays of expanded family and medical leave, which are otherwise unpaid under the Emergency and Family Medical Leave Expansion Act unless the employee elects to use existing vacation, personal, or medical or sick leave under the employer’s policy. After the first ten workdays have elapsed the employee will receive 2/3 of their regular rate of pay for the hours they would have been scheduled to work in the subsequent ten weeks under the Emergency and Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (up to $200 per day and $10,000 total).

Small Employer Exemption

Employers with less than 50 employees can attempt to justify why compliance with the mandates would jeopardize the viability of the business by documenting the reasons.  The DOL will be issuing more guidance specific to this process in the coming days/weeks.  At this time, such employers should be in contact with competent legal counsel to discuss this option.

While the FAQs answer some of the pressing questions, more clarification will emerge with the release of the regulations.  The interplay between the FFCRA and existing state and local leave laws is a complex issue that must be analyzed prior to the determination of any leave. Because of the complexity and evolving nature of the issues it is always advisable to consult with counsel when implementing or denying leaves under the FFCRA.