Tag Archives: Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

DOL Clarifies FFCRA Child Care Leave – More FFCRA Guidance Expected

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, September 10, 2020

e-learning concept. schooldesk and chalkboard on the laptop keyboard. 3d

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act or “FFCRA” requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide paid leave to employees unable to work (or telework) for various COVID-related reasons. Particularly relevant as many schools open either virtually or with combination of in person and virtual instruction is FFCRA’s mandate for paid leave to care for children not in school or daycare due to COVID-19.

On August 27, 2020 the DOL added FFCRA FAQs 98-100 clarifying that:

  • FFCRA is not triggered if the child’s school is open for in-person instruction but the family chooses an e-learning option unless the e-learning option was chosen because the child is under a quarantine order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-isolate or self-quarantine. See FAQ #99
  • A hybrid in-person / e-learning schedule triggers FFCRA for the child’s assigned e-learning days (those days when the school is effectively closed to that child although open to others) if the employee is needed to care for the child and no other suitable person available to do so. FAQ #98
  • The fact that the district is monitoring the local situation and may reopen to in-person instruction does not impact FFCRA coverage. FFCRA is triggered when the employee is needed to provide care because the school is not open to the child for in-person learning. FAQ #100

While helpful, the FAQs leave some questions unanswered. What if school is open only half days? What if school is open but the child must quarantine due to possible exposure? If the child is not experiencing symptoms and therefore has not sought a diagnosis does the parent’s absence trigger FFCRA? Absent further guidance to the contrary, consider these absences as FFCRA-covered anytime the school is effectively closed to that child.  

In other FFCRA news, back on August 5, 2020 we reported that a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down portions of the DOL’s final rule implementing the FFCRA. The court invalidated the work availability requirement, much of the health care provider exception, the employer consent rule for intermittent leave, and employers’ right to require documentation in advance of leave. No word yet on whether the DOL will appeal the ruling (because a U.S. government agency is a litigant, the parties have 60 days to appeal rather than the normal 30 days). However, on September 3, 2020, the DOL sent a revised final rule on the FFCRA to the White House for review. Presumably revisions were made in response to this ruling.  Absent further guidance to the contrary, consider absences as FFCRA-covered anytime employees must care for their child because the school is effectively closed to that child. 

Federal Court Significantly Changes the FFCRA and Uncertainty Abounds

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, August 5, 2020

gavel on white background

As our readers know, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide paid leave to employees who are unable to work (or telework) for a variety of COVID-related reasons (including caring for children not in school due to COVID) though December 31, 2020. On April 6, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a final rule implementing the FFCRA. Shortly thereafter, the State of New York filed suit claiming the regulations unduly restrict employees’ right to paid leave. This week a federal judge in the Southern District of New York struck down portions of the DOL’s regulations, finding the DOL exceeded its authority. Specifically, the court invalidated the work availability requirement, much of the health care provider exception, the employer consent requirement for intermittent leave, and employers’ right to require documentation in advance of leave. All remaining parts of the DOL regulations are unaffected by the ruling. Because the case was decided under the Administrative Procedures Act, the ruling could apply nationwide (although the Judge did not address the reach of the ruling specifically).  

Work Availability Requirement. The DOL regulations make clear that an employer need only provide paid leave if it has work available for the employee. If there is no work for the employee to do, they are not entitled to paid leave, even if they would otherwise qualify. The ruling struck down the work availability requirement finding it had no basis in the language of the FFCRA itself, leaving employers to wonder whether they might be obligated to pay furloughed workers.   

Health Care Provider Exception. The FFCRA excludes “health care providers” from the universe of employees eligible for leave but, beyond medical doctors, left it to the DOL to define “health care providers.” The DOL defined the term very broadly to include essentially anyone working in the health care space (including, for example, receptionists, janitors, IT personnel). The court concluded the DOL overstepped its bounds and struck down the DOL’s broad definition of “health care providers”). However, it is unclear to which employees the health care provider exception applies because the Judge did not elaborate.

Intermittent Leave Only with Employer’s Consent. The DOL regulations allow eligible employees to take FFCRA leave intermittently where there is no risk that the employee might spread the virus to others (to take care of children at home due to school closings) but only if the employer agrees. The court agreed that limiting the use of intermittent leave was grounded in preventing the spread of COVID and therefore reasonable. However, the court then concluded that requiring employer consent had no basis in the statute, thus paving the way for employees to take intermittent leave over their employer’s objection.

Requiring Documentation Before Leave. The DOL regulations allow an employer to require an employee to provide documentation of the reason for the leave, the duration of the leave, and the authority for the quarantine order (if applicable). The court stated that to the extent these documentation requirements are preconditions to taking leave, they are invalid. Employers can require documentation, but cannot require employees to provide anything more than notice prior to commencing leave.  

What Does All This Mean for Me? The DOL will likely appeal the ruling. However, we do not yet know whether the court of appeals will halt application of the decision while the case works its way through the appeals process. It is also possible that the DOL will revise its regulations in response to the decision. Also, the Judge did not address the reach of the ruling specifically because the State of New York did not seek a nationwide injunction. For now, employers are cautioned not to rely on the provisions the court struck down without first carefully analyzing the situation with trusted employment counsel.   

Save the Date! Complimentary Webcast July 30th: Back to School: What Employers Need to Know Related to COVID-19 and Childcare for the Upcoming School Year

As school districts announce their plans to start the school year on modified schedules with continued digital learning, employers need to anticipate the accommodations parents will request and consider leave policies.

Join Allison Sues and John Hayes on Thursday, July 30, 2020 at 10AM CT as they discuss leave eligibility under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employee accommodations, and more. Key highlights include:

  • An overview of the different approaches to school openings by states, local governments, and school districts to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the fall
  • Review of employee eligibility for FFCRA paid FMLA leave
  • Practical tips for employers accommodating employees who have school aged children
  • Updates on any new or potential legislation

Employees Entitled to Leave Because Camp is Closed? Yes.

Contributed by Suzannah Wilson Overholt, July 2, 2020

text summer camp written with chalk on a chalkboard

After schools and day cares closed in the spring due to the pandemic, employers and parents alike were hopeful that summer would bring a return to normalcy – especially in the form of camp for kids. Alas, that hope has not become a reality as many states have either delayed or prohibited the opening of camps. What are employers and working parents to do?

On June 26, the federal Department of Labor issued guidance stating that, under certain circumstances, an employee whose child’s day camp is closed as a result of COVID-19 may take leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  

As a reminder, the FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide eligible employees with up to twelve weeks of expanded family and medical leave if the employee is unable to work or telework due to a need to care for his or her child whose place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons. (You can read more about the FFCRA’s provisions in our earlier blog). A “place of care” includes summer camps and summer enrichment programs. 29 C.F.R. § 826.10(a). Therefore, an employee may request emergency FFCRA family leave to care for his or her child based on the closure of a summer camp or other summer program.  

An employee who requests leave on this basis is subject to the general requirements for requesting emergency family leave under the FFCRA and should provide the name of the specific summer camp or program that would have been the place of care for the child had it not closed. 29 C.F.R. § 826.100(e)(2). The requirement to name a specific summer camp or program may be satisfied if the child applied to or was enrolled in the summer camp or program before it closed or attended the camp or program in prior summers and was eligible to attend again.  

The request for leave due to the closure of a camp or summer program must be based on planned enrollment and is not appropriate if the child has never attended the camp/program in question or any other camp/program, unless there were some indication that the child would have attended had the camp/program not closed in response to COVID-19. Actual enrollment in the camp/program is not required to qualify for leave. Factors to consider include: submission of an application or deposit before the camp’s closure; prior attendance in the camp/program; current eligibility for the camp/program; and being accepted to a waitlist pending the reopening of the camp/program. 

Employers should also consider that a child who met the age requirement for a summer camp for the first time in 2020 could not have attended the camp in prior years. Similarly, a child who recently moved to a new area may have to attend a different camp/program from prior years. Finally, parents may have delayed making arrangements for summer due to the pandemic. 

The status of summer camps is yet another area employers should monitor as their states re-open.

UPDATE – Does a “Shelter-in-Place” or “Stay-at-Home” Order Trigger Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA?

Contributed by Jeff Risch and Peter Hansen, April 6, 2020

22175873 – a 3d human character a question mark

As we now know, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires covered employers to provide employees with paid sick leave — under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) — for specified reasons related to COVID-19 starting April 1. These reasons include: because the employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.

Many states and local governments have now mandated shelter-in-place (SIP) or stay-at-home orders.

The question facing many employers is whether these SIP orders trigger the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published its FFCRA rules on April 6, 2020 providing a little more guidance on this issue. According to the DOL’s regulations: 

For the purposes of the EPSLA, a quarantine or isolation order includes quarantine, isolation, containment, shelter-in-place, or stay-at-home orders issued by any federal, state, or local government authority that cause the Employee to be unable to work even though his or her Employer has work that the Employee could perform but for the order. This also includes when a federal, state, or local government authority has advised categories of citizens (e.g., of certain age ranges or of certain medical conditions) to shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, isolate, or quarantine, causing those categories of Employees to be unable to work even though their Employers have work for them.

In light of this authority, employers who continue to operate and have work available at their place of business need to carefully review the unique SIP order(s) impacting their operations and determine if there is any information advising categories of citizens (e.g., of certain age ranges or of certain medical conditions) to shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, isolate, or quarantine and thereby causing those categories of employees to be unable to work even though work is available.  Of course, if an employee is able and allowed to work from home, then the employee would not be eligible for paid sick leave under the EPSLA. 

Again, it is critical for employers to evaluate the SIP order(s) covering their geographic footprint(s). Using Illinois as an example, the current stay-at-home order states that, “People at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including elderly people and those who are sick, are urged to stay in their residence to the extent possible except as necessary to seek medical care.”  However, questions abound. Does Governor Pritzker “urging” certain residents to stay at home render them eligible for EPSLA benefits if they cannot work from home? Notably, St. Louis County (MO) issued its own stay-at-home order with language similar to Illinois, and released an FAQ providing, in relevant part: It is highly recommended that high-risk populations (like persons over 60 years old or persons with underlying health conditions) should stay at home. 

Bottom Line:  An employee should not be eligible for the paid sick leave under the EPSLA if his/her assigned worksite closes down pursuant to an SIP order, or if it closes for any other reason, such as lack of business. However, employers should note that when they continue to operate, any employee who cannot work from home may be eligible for paid sick leave depending on the applicable SIP order in place expressly advising the employee to stay home due to specific instructions/restrictions. 

Does a “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home Order” Trigger Paid Leave under the FFCRA?

Contributed by John Hayes, March 31, 2020

Clock and cash

***Please see updated information on FFCRA regulations in our April 3, 2020 post.

A component of the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires covered employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 starting April 1. Additionally, many states and local governments have now mandated that non-essential businesses close and that its citizens stay at home, subject to certain exceptions, often referred to as Shelter in Place (SIP) or Stay at Home orders.

The question facing many employers now is whether these SIP orders trigger the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA.

The short answer is no.

On March 28, 2020 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance to address, among other things, the FFCRA provisions related to paid sick leave or expanded medical leave, and whether employers are required to provide paid leave under its provisions if it is forced to close pursuant to SIP orders.  The specific questions that address the provisions for the closure of a worksite can be found on the DOL website and the relevant portions of the answers read as follows:

If my employer closes my worksite on or after April 1, 2020 (the effective date of the FFCRA), but before I go out on leave, can I still get paid sick leave and/or expanded family and medical leave?

No. If your employer closes after the FFCRA’s effective date (even if you requested leave prior to the closure), you will not get paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave but you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because it was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State or local directive.

If my employer closes my worksite while I am on paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, what happens?

If your employer closes while you are on paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, your employer must pay for any paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave you used before the employer closed. As of the date your employer closes your worksite, you are no longer entitled to paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, but you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because the employer was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State or local directive.

If my employer closes my worksite on or after April 1, 2020 (the effective date of the FFCRA), but tells me that it will reopen at some time in the future, can I receive paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave?

No, not while your worksite is closed. If your employer closes your worksite, even for a short period of time, you are not entitled to take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. However, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because it was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State, or local directive. If your employer reopens and you resume work, you would then be eligible for paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave as warranted.

Bottom line: an employee is not eligible for the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA if their worksite closes down pursuant to an SIP order, or if it closes for any other reason, such as lack of business. However, employers should note that when they reopen and recall the affected employees to work, the recalled employees will be eligible for paid sick or family leave, if they meet the requirements under FFCRA. 

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.

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.