The US Department of Labor (DOL) has posted its temporary regulations regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The DOL is scheduled to post its published version on April 6, 2020. The new regulations include parts 826.10 – 826.160 of the federal code and set forth the compliance requirements for employers with less than 500 employees for both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Expanded Family and Medical Leave (EFMLEA).
Additionally, the DOL continues to update its FFCRA FAQ’s and FAQ’s regarding posting requirements. At the time of this publication, those FAQ’s were most recently updated on April 2, 2020.
Employers subject to the FFCRA paid leave provisions must comply with these new regulations no later than April 1, 2020. The DOL has a limited stay of enforcement regarding FFCRA compliance until April 17, 2020; however, the DOL has indicated that once it fully enforces the FFCRA, it will retroactively enforce violations back until the effective date of April 1, 2020, if employers have not remedied the violations.
As a reminder, employers covered by the FFCRA must post the following poster in a conspicuous place on its premises which can be satisfied by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.
The FFCRA rules are complex and as COVID-19 stay in place orders, quarantines and directives change, those changes will impact an employer’s FFCRA compliance requirements.
The Department of Labor has issued Temporary Regulations on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to address an issue already causing employers fits – namely, can employees use paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and expanded family and medical leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) intermittently?
According to the DOL: it depends.
The employer and employee must agree to intermittent leave.
First and foremost, the regulations are clear that “one basic condition” applies to all employees who seek to take leave under the FFRCA: “they and their employer must agree.” Without such an agreement, leave cannot be taken intermittently. While there is no requirement of a written agreement, it is advisable to have one. Because the DOL has said that in the absence of a written agreement to intermittent leave, “there must be a clear and mutual understanding between the parties.” In addition, the agreement must also be certain as to the increments of time in which the leave is taken intermittently.
If the employer and employee agree to intermittent leave, when is it permissible under the FFCRA?
Intermittent leave is not permissible in all situations.
If the employer and employee agree that the employee may telework (e.g., working from home), the employee is permitted to take intermittent leave (paid leave and/or expanded family or medical leave) in any agreed increment of time. This regulation is drafted intentionally broad to give employers flexibility to balance the needs of the teleworking employee and the “needs of the employer’s business.”
However, if an employee is still working at the employer’s jobsite, intermittent leave can only be taken “in circumstances where there is a minimal risk that the employee will spread COVID-19 to other employees at an employer’s worksite.” Therefore, the regulations allow an employer and employee reporting to a worksite to “agree that the employee may take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave intermittently solely to care for the employee’s son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, because of reasons related to COVID-19.”
However, intermittent leave is prohibited for employees who report to an employer’s worksite – even if the employee and employer agree – if the leave it being taken for any of the following reasons:
because the employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
because the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
because the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is taking leave to obtain a medical diagnosis;
because the employee is caring for an individual who either is subject to a quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; or
because the employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
According to the Regulations, in these situations, intermittent leave is prohibited due to the “unacceptably high risk that the employee might spread COVID-19 to other employees when reporting to the employer’s worksite.” So once an employee starts taking leave for any of these reasons, she must continue to take it until either the entire amount of provided leave is taken or until she no longer has a qualifying reason to taken leave.
Finally, the Regulations clarified that when permissible intermittent leave is agreed to by the employer and employee, “only the amount of leave actually taken may be counted towards the employees leave entitlements.” This means that if an employee returns from leave prior to expiration of their leave entitlement under the FFCRA, they are still entitled to use the remaining leave entitlement for a separate qualifying reason and are not otherwise prohibited from doing so by the Intermittent Leave regulations.
Prior to the issuing the regulations, the DOL issued guidance on these issues, which is consistent with the regulations, which can be found on the DOL website.
At the time of passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Department of Labor (DOL) was tasked with issuing guidance on how a “small employer” might be exempt from providing paid sick leave and expanded FMLA benefits if doing so affected the business’s viability. The DOL has now issued guidance that addresses how this viability exemption can be met. Specifically, the DOL states that an employer, which includes religious or nonprofit organizations, with fewer than 50 employees (small business), is exempt from providing paid emergency sick leave and expanded FMLA paid leave pursuant to the FFCRA if doing so “would jeopardize the viability of the small business as a going concern” as determined by an authorized officer of the business. This determination is based on said officer finding that one of the three following conditions exists:
The provision of paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would result in the small business’s expenses and financial obligations exceeding available business revenues and causing the small business to cease operating at a minimal capacity;
The absence of employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the small business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or
There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, and these labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at a minimal capacity.
In sum, a small business may be exempted from FFCRA requirements if it can show that there is not enough revenue coming in to afford the expanded benefits, not enough skilled workers to do the specialized work critical to the business, or not enough available workers to do the work to keep the business going.
It should be noted, however, that the DOL’s guidance on the small employer exemption also “encourages” employers and employees to collaborate to reach the best solution for maintaining the business and ensuring employee safety. Also, the DOL’s guidance may give the small business protection today, but time may change the analysis.
While the initial say on the business’s viability is the employer’s call, employers will likely be scrutinized down the road.
BOTTOM LINE: Any business contemplating the “small employer” exemption to the FFCRA should seek advice and counsel from competent labor law counsel.
On March 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an update to its “Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers” to address, among other things, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provisions that allow employers of “health care providers” and “emergency responders” to exclude such employees from the FFCRA’s emergency sick leave and expanded FMLA provisions. The specific questions that address the provisions for health care providers and emergency responders shown in this article can be found on the DOL website and read as follows:
Who is a “health care provider” who may be excluded by their employer from paid sick leave and/or expanded family and medical leave?
For the purposes of employees who may be exempted from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the FFCRA, a health care provider is anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity. This includes any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions.
This definition includes any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of the above institutions, employers, or entities institutions to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments. This also includes any individual that the highest official of a state or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is a health care provider necessary for that state’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.
To minimize the spread of the virus associated with COVID-19, the Department encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt health care providers from the provisions of the FFCRA.
The DOL also defined “emergency responder” for purposes of the FFCRA exclusions:
Who is an emergency responder?
For the purposes of employees who may be excluded from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the FFCRA, an emergency responder is an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort, and nutrition of such patients, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes any individual that the highest official of a state or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is an emergency responder necessary for that state’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.
To minimize the spread of the virus associated with COVID-19, the Department encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt emergency responders from the provisions of the FFCRA.
Employers having employees fitting the definitions above need to remember that the health care provider and emergency responder exclusions are discretionary, not automatic. As such, and in order to avoid confusion (and litigation down the road), we recommend that employers that intend to use either exclusion provide a short, simple notice to their employees to inform them of the fact that because they are included within the DOL’s definition of “health care provider” and/or “emergency responder,” and are essential to the fight against COVID-19, they are not eligible for emergency sick leave or expanded FMLA leave under the FFCRA. Such a notice should also advise employees that these exclusions do not affect their eligibility for FMLA leave under the terms of the FMLA in place prior to FFCRA enactment.
And all employers should bear in mind that the fairly expansive definition of health care provider discussed above does not apply to the definition of a health care provider who can certify an employee’s need for FMLA leave. That definition remains limited to, essentially, licensed doctors of medicine, nurse practitioners, and certain others as discussed in FMLA regulations in place prior to FFCRA enactment.
While there is some “chatter” from Washington concerning potential “hazard pay” for these workers, employers who use these exclusions are permitted to implement their own policies and benefit programs unique to their workers. Employers should also remember to keep in mind any local or state paid leave mandates currently in place or that may develop in the coming weeks.
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.
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.
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.