Federal Paid Sick Leave for Working Families
May 26, 2020 5:39 PM
by Autumn M. Rindels, Andrea Cavanaugh
Did you know that there is a new federal paid leave law designed to help working families deal with the COVID-19 crisis, but many have not heard about it, and some of those who have heard about it are confused as to how it works? Timely and accurate information about paid sick leave benefits is critical for working families, especially now as the economy starts to reopen and workers are slowly moving back to the office or store, while still concerned about the continued spread of COVID-19. The City of Santa Monica believes that access to information for our working families, ongoing communications with the business community, and broad public outreach, are critical factors that will help our community get through this pandemic.
As a part of the COVID-19 emergency relief package, the federal government enacted a temporary paid leave law to help employees and their families deal with the devastating impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The leave provisions were established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and intended to help employees who need to take time off due to health or childcare needs related to COVID-19. The FFCRA creates two categories of emergency paid leave: (1) paid sick leave under “The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act” (EPSLA); and (2) expanded family and medical leave under “The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act” (EFMLEA). The benefits under FFCRA are temporary and apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
The City of Santa Monica’s minimum wage law already requires employers with 25 or fewer employees to provide a minimum of 40 hours paid sick leave, and employers with 26 or more employees to provide 72 hours paid sick leave. The new federal leave legal requirements are in addition to the City’s paid sick rules.
These are frequently asked questions about how the FFCRA affects employers and employees:
1. Which employers are covered by the FFCRA?
The FFCRA applies to private employers with fewer than 500 employees and certain public employers.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to provide paid leave due to school, place of care, or child care provider closings or unavailability, where the leave payments would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.
2. Which employees are covered by the FFCRA?
The FFCRA covers full-time, part-time employees, employees on leave, temporary employees who are jointly employed by the employer and another entity, and day laborers supplied by a temporary placement agency. The paid family leave (EFMLEA) applies to employees employed by the employer for at least 30 days.
3. Do employers get any help under the FFCRA?
Yes, employers may qualify for reimbursement through refundable tax credits, for the amount that employers pay employees who take leave.
4. Can you explain in more detail how the paid sick leave part of FFCRA (EPSLA) works?
When can an employee take paid sick leave?
Employers are required to provide paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work due to the following six reasons related COVID-19: where the employee (1) is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; (2) has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; (3) is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis; (4) is caring for an individual who is under quarantine by government order or a recommendation from a healthcare provider; (5) is caring for the employee’s child whose school or place of care has been closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 related reasons; or (6) is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Employers may exclude healthcare providers or emergency responders from leave requirements.
How much time and pay is an employee entitled to while on leave?
Full-time employees can get up to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and generally part-time employees can to up to the number of hours that they work on average over a two-week period, although special rules may apply to part-time employees with varying schedules.
For an employee who takes paid sick leave because he or she is subject to a quarantine or isolation order, has been advised to self-quarantine by a healthcare provider, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis, the EPSLA provides for paid sick leave at the greater of the employee's regular rate of pay, or the applicable minimum wage (federal, state, or local), up to $511 per day and $5,110 in total.
An employee who takes paid sick leave for any other qualifying reason under the EPSLA is entitled to be paid two-thirds of that amount, up to $200 per day, and $2,000 in total.
5. Can you explain in more detail how the family and medical leave of FFCRA (EFMLEA) works?
When can an employee take this leave?
Employers are required to provide expanded paid family and medical leave to eligible employees who are unable to work because the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency in connection with to COVID-19, as declared by a federal, state, or local authority.
Employees who have been employed by the employer for at least 30 calendar days are eligible.
Employers may exclude healthcare providers or emergency responders from taking expanded family and medical leave.
How much time and pay is an employee entitled to while on leave?
An employee is entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave.
The first two weeks (usually 10 workdays) of this leave are unpaid; however, the employee may use accrued vacation, personal, medical, or sick leave.
The following period of up to 10 weeks of expanded family and medical leave must be paid. Specifically, the employee must be paid at two-thirds of the employee's regular rate of pay. For each day of leave, the employee receives compensation based on the number of hours they would otherwise be normally scheduled to work, although special rules may apply to employees with varying schedules. The total EFMLEA payment per employee for this ten-week period is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in total, for a total of no more than $12,000 when combined with two weeks of paid leave taken under the EPSLA.
6. If an employer does not have enough work, can the employee receive emergency paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave?
No. If an employer furloughs an employee because it does not have enough work or business, the employee is not entitled to take FFRCA’s paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave.
7. If an employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation order but can telework, may that employee take paid sick leave?
No, an employee who is subject to quarantine or isolation order, may not take paid sick leave where (a) their employer has work for the employee to perform; (b) the employer permits the employee to perform that work from the location where the employee is being quarantined or isolated (telework); and (c) there are no extenuating circumstances that prevent the employee from performing that work.
8. If an employee is ill with COVID-19 symptoms, quarantine themselves for two weeks, and then return to work without seeking a medical diagnosis, can they be paid for those two weeks under the FFCRA?
Generally, no. Employees ill with COVID-19 symptoms can only take paid sick leave under the FFCRA if they seek a medical diagnosis or if a health care provider otherwise advises them to self-quarantine. Employees who test positive for the virus associated with COVID-19 or who are advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine can continue to take paid sick leave for the qualifying amount of time.
9. Do employers need to post notice of the FFCRA?
Yes, employers covered by the FFCRA are required to post notice informing their employees of the requirements of the leave. The notice must be posted in a conspicuous place on the premises of the employer, emailed or direct mailed to employees, or posted electronically on an employee website.
10. How do I take a leave under this law?
For additional information please visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic, or contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs ("DCBA”) at https://iddweb.isd.lacounty.gov/dca_ecomplaint/Question/.
If you believe you qualify for benefits under the FFCRA, notify your employer and follow the employer’s notice procedures. If your employer does not provide the requested leave, then please call 1-866-4US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243), or visit www.dol.gov/agencies/whd. The Wage and Hour Division of the U. S. Department of Labor (“WHD”) is responsible for administering and enforcing these provisions. Your call will be directed to the nearest WHD office for assistance to have your questions answered or to file a complaint.