From April 1 through December 31, 2020, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) directs certain smaller employers to provide coronavirus-related paid family and medical leave as well as paid sick leave to employees in certain circumstances. On August 27, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a news release introducing a comprehensive FAQ document that the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) created to explain in detail employee FFCRA leave rights.

The news release provides guidance in light of questions likely to arise about paid sick and leave rights related to COVID-19 illness and care needs in this uncertain new school year. The outreach seeks to “ensure that workers are not faced with having to choose between their jobs and the safety and welfare of their children.”

Covered employers

The leave responsibilities under FFCRA apply to private employers that have fewer than 500 employees and to some government employers. An employer with fewer than 50 employees may apply for exemption from the requirements in certain circumstances if it would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern,” according to the WHD website.

The temporary COVID-19 paid leave responsibilities are not intended to cause financial distress for covered employers. The federal government indirectly subsidizes private employers for the costs of FFCRA paid leaves through tax credits.

FFCRA paid leave eligibility

Eligible employees may take one of these two paid sick leave options:

  • Two weeks (capped at 80 hours) of paid sick leave at full pay if the employee must quarantine per a government or doctor’s order, or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and pursuing a diagnosis OR
  • Two weeks of paid sick leave at two-thirds the person’s regular pay rate if the employee has to care for someone who must quarantine or care for a child whose child care or school is closed or not available because of the coronavirus, or if the employee has a substantially similar circumstance specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services

In addition, an eligible employee who has been employed for 30 or more calendar days may take up to 10 more weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds their regular pay rate to care for a child who cannot go to school or child care because of closure or unavailability from COVID-19.

If a covered employer improperly fails to approve FFCRA paid leave, the impacted employee may have legal remedies like a complaint with WHD or a lawsuit, depending on the kind of employer and unique circumstances.

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