In light of the on-going concern about the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has taken many actions to mitigate the economic impact. So far, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is perhaps the biggest move.
The United States government passed the FFCRA to offer protection and support to eligible public and private employees who are unable to work (or telework) due to this public health emergency.
As an employer, it’s crucial that you fully understand the provisions of this act and why it’s significant.
To that end, we’ll discuss everything that you need to know about the FFCRA in this post, including:
- Details of the paid leaves (types, eligibility, duration, and calculation)
- Some relevant FAQs
- Information about covered employees under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
- How to track the paid leaves that fall under the FFCRA
Let’s jump right in.
What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?
Enforced and administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is an emergency law enacted on March 18, 2020, and came into effect on April 1, 2020.
Under this Act, all covered employers are required to offer a certain number of emergency paid sick leaves (also known as the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act) to qualifying employees, along with an additional amount of paid expanded FMLA leaves (otherwise known as the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act).
The provisions cover all eligible full-time and part-time employees (as well as the temporary ones).
This Act will expire on December 31, 2020. Depending on future conditions, the government may pass a revised Act if the pandemic doesn’t subside by then. However, neither Congress nor the DOL has commented on this matter.
Who is Considered a “Covered” Employer?
The leave provisions under the FFCRA apply to certain public employers.
Furthermore, private employers with less than 500 employees are also covered.
Healthcare providers and emergency responders, as well as, certain small businesses (more on that later) are exempt.
A Detailed Look at the Provisions of the FFCRA
The actual bill is quite extensive and provides a long list of conditions and requirements for the concerned employers.
To make things easier for you, we’ve summarized all of the crucial details below:
To avoid compliance landmines and attorney fees, as an employer, it’s vital that you understand the different types of leaves offered under the Act.
Let’s take a closer look at everything:
Types of Leaves
The following two types of leaves are included under the FFCRA:
1. Paid Sick Leaves
First and foremost, a covered employer is supposed to offer up to 2 weeks of paid sick leaves to any employee who is practicing self-quarantine under the federal or state government’s orders, or due to experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (and is advised by a healthcare provider).
Employees are also entitled to paid sick leaves if they need to take care of a person under quarantine or a child whose school and childcare provider/daycare is unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leaves (FMLA)
In addition to the sick leaves, employers are also supposed to provide up to 12 weeks of expanded (paid) FMLA leaves to employees who have to take care of their children (less than 18 years of age) due to reasons related to the pandemic.
An additional requirement is that the employee must have been employed for at least 30 days prior to the date of enactment (i.e. March 18, 2020).
These leaves are to be offered on top of the emergency sick leaves, as in, if an employee exhausts all of their sick leaves, and they still need additional time off to take care of their child, the employer is legally required to offer this paid family leave.
It’s also important to note that employees who are already protected by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act are NOT covered by the expanded FMLA provisions. However, they’re covered by the paid sick leave provisions.
Qualifying Reasons Listed Under the FFCRA
There are certain circumstances that an employee must meet in order to be considered eligible for the leaves provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
While we’ve already highlighted the leave requirements above, here’s a brief summary of all the qualifying reasons to make things clear:
- The employee is practicing self-quarantine or isolation under the instructions of the Federal or state/local government due to COVID-19.
- The employee is practicing self-isolation under the instructions of a healthcare provider due to COVID-19.
- They’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking medical diagnosis/treatment.
- They’re providing care to someone who is self-isolating due to either reason 1 or 2.
- The employee is taking care of a child due to the closure of their school or the unavailability of a place of care because of COVID-19 (those seeking expanded FMLA must meet this requirement).
- The employee is experiencing any other similar condition (as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Secretaries of Labor and Treasury).
An employee must meet at least one of the reasons/items listed above to receive the leaves.
The Duration of Leaves
The duration of the leaves depends on the reason(s) presented by the employee.
Here are the details:
- For Items #1 till #4, and Item #6 – up to 80 hours (around 2 workweeks) of sick leave is to be provided to all full-time employees. A part-time/temporary employee, on the other hand, will receive a leave equal to the average total number of hours they work over a period of two weeks.
- For Item #5 – full-time employees are to receive up to 12 weeks (around 40 hours per week) of FMLA. Part-timers will get leaves equivalent to the total number of hours that they’re supposed to work during that time period.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that an employer can’t deny an employee’s leaves if they have recently taken family and medical leaves. These two types of leaves are completely irrelevant to one another.
The Calculation of Leaves
Depending on the reason(s), an employee can either receive fully or partially-paid leaves.
Let’s look at the details:
- For Items #1 till #3 – if an employee presents any of these three qualifying reasons (that are for paid sick leaves only), the employer will use the regular rate of pay to calculate the amount or use the minimum wage for calculations (whichever is higher).
- For Items #4 till #6 – the paid leaves (whether sick or FMLA) offered will be equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate or the minimum wage (again, whichever is higher).
When processing your payroll, it’s important to consider all of the details listed above to avoid errors and potential lawsuits.
Other FAQs Related to the FFCRA
Here are some FAQs for additional information:
1. Is there any tax credit for covered employers?
Yes, all covered employers will receive dollar-to-dollar reimbursements through tax credits for all relevant payments made towards complying with the Act, including:
- Paid emergency sick leaves
- Expanded FMLA leaves
Additionally, this also includes any payments made towards maintaining the health insurance coverage of affected employees.
2. What if an employee has already exhausted all of their existing FMLA leaves for the year?
If an employee has already taken all of the available FMLA leaves, they will NOT be eligible for the additional emergency ones. However, they can still qualify for the sick leaves.
Furthermore, the maximum number of the emergency FMLA leaves will depend on an eligible employee’s remaining number of leaves for the year.
Similarly, an employee who doesn’t exhaust their annual FMLA leaves due to the reason listed above (item #5), can take the remainder of their leaves for any other reason throughout the year.
3. Are there any special instructions to share the details of this Act with your employees?
Yes, the DOL has published a comprehensive list of FAQs related to how you’re supposed to share the notice with your employees. You can access them here.
The basic instruction is to download the notice/poster for the FFCRA and post it at a “conspicuous” location at your workplace.
4. My employees are telecommuting/teleworking. How do I share the notice with them?
In case your employees aren’t working on-site (due to any reason), the DOL’s instructions are to share the requirements through direct mail or email.
Employers can also share this notice on their websites.
5. I have a small business. Do I need to comply?
There is a small business exemption for companies that:
- Have less than 50 employees
- Feel that offering paid leaves due to the closure of schools and childcare facilities would put them in jeopardy
6. My state offers better protection than the FFCRA. Do I still need to comply?
Yes, all covered employers have to comply with the Act. They also need to follow the additional instructions of the DOL for sharing the notice.
The Significance of the FFCRA
While the FFCRA might have thrown a wrench in your planning for COVID-19, the Act reflects the severity of the situation and modern employee-friendly regulations.
If you’re a covered employer, here are three reasons why you can’t afford to compromise with compliance:
1. There are Hefty Penalties for Non-Compliance
First of all, the provisions mentioned under the FFCRA aren’t optional or discretionary.
All covered employers (except for certain businesses and service providers) must comply with the Act, regardless of anything.
Failure to comply will result in hefty penalties that could put the very survival of your business in jeopardy.
If an employer fails to comply, they’ll be subject to the penalties detailed in Sections 16 and 17 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 29 U.S.C. 216; 217.
This includes all of the attorney fees as well as other fines (or even imprisonment).
Additionally, those who fail to provide the additional 12 weeks of paid leaves to an employee who has to take care of a child will be subject to the provisions detailed under the FMLA.
2. It’s an Opportunity to Show That You Care
The DOL is observing a temporary non-enforcement period from April 1 to April 30.
This means that, during this period, an employer can legally get away with not complying with the Act.
However, this time period is an opportunity to set a positive example and show your employees that you care about them.
3. An Underlying Purpose is to Protect the Society
The primary purpose of the FFCRA is to offer job protection and support to qualifying employees.
However, there’s a higher purpose behind the act – to protect the society and play a role in flattening the curve.
Fearing layoffs, there’s a good chance that employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms won’t ask for leaves – putting everyone else at risk.
However, thanks to the FFCRA, eligible employees can legally demand and receive paid leaves.
Ending Note: How Do You Track the FFCRA Leaves?
Last, but not least, it’s important to keep a track on all of the FFCRA-related leaves that your employees exhaust.
Even the smallest misstep can turn your well-performing business upside down – potentially landing you in the court of law.
Besides, it will also help you make sure that you don’t end up paying more than what is due.
While managing these leaves on top of the regular PTO may sound like an administrative nightmare, with the right tool at your disposal, it’s only a matter of a few minutes.
A promising option is GoCo’s PTO Management Software, which allows you to conveniently create separate PTO categories for FFCRA leaves.
To demonstrate, here’s a snapshot of how we helped one of our clients set up leave tracking for the Act: